Can Traumatic Experiences Affect Future Generations?

Behavioral epigenetic expressions. I’m sure you’re thinking, epige-what? Just under 25 years ago, two scientists begin to realize the impact that certain events can have on specific races/ethnicities in each generation. Moshe Szyf and Michael Meaney, both of McGill University in Canada, began to realize the idea that events like the Holocaust, atomic bombings in Japan, the Vietnam War, and many other critical events of the 20th century could impact the next generation literally in terms of DNA. While obviously these events had effects in the lives of each affected group in terms of socio-economic and political factors, Szyf and Meaney started to develop the idea that it could literally change the .1% of DNA that can be altered.

To put behavioral epigenetics in simpler terms of nature vs. nurture, it is basically the idea that the nurturing affects the nature, rather than vice versa. According to the Oxford Journals, most of the research in the field focuses on early development of organisms. “Behavioral epigenetics refers to the study of how signals from the environment trigger molecular biological changes that modify what goes on in brain cells.” (Powledge, 2011). The hardest part of conducting research in a field as big as epigenetics is navigating the human genome.

The regulation of the structure of the genome is three-dimensional of course, adding an extra layer of difficulty as to mapping out where the discrepancies are inside the DNA itself. Regulating the physical structure and the chemical adjustments that are made, they are the two most frequently utilized processes. The most important development in epigenetics began with discovering where the changes came from with the parents (Oxford).

According to Oxford, the foundation for how epigenetics would be connected to parents and their children began with Meaney studying rats and how their parents could pass down responses to stress for their children. The journal cites that the scientists were able to study the brains of the rats, and following this discovery, continued to develop their ideas, eventually coming upon the process of imprinting as they discovered how different animals can become hybrids of one another through genomic imprinting. As for the future of epigenetics? Well, the hurdles to having meaningful research in the subject are numerous, according to the author, Powledge. But as far as cell biology goes, this could very well be the next big thing in the field, especially if hybrid traits continue to unravel with humans. While epigenetics still has a ways to go, it is heading in the right direction.


Mapping out the epigenetics. Link:


Hurley, Dan. “November 2016.” Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine, 25 June 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Powledge, Tabitha M. “Behavioral Epigenetics: How Nurture Shapes Nature.” Behavioral Epigenetics: How Nurture Shapes Nature. Oxford University, 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

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