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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Without seeing the original paper (I'll check it out at work) my money is on how long before it is retracted (or simply disproved, as glamor mags rarely detract). There simply is no known genetic pathway for this to occur. It is indeed still as far fetched today as it was 10, 20, or 60 years ago. DNA transcription, while not perfectly understood, can be successfully modeled much of the time. If indeed such a mechanism is proven to exist, one where external stimulus affects the development of gametes, then you have Nobel material. For now, I suspect it is just confirmation bias, shoddy controls, and a glamor mag rushing to print a sensational story.

Back in the day, it was called "ancestral memories;" a theory mined by Jack London, particularly in "Call of the Wild."

Sounds disturbingly like Trofim Lysenko's Michurinism.

While reserving judgement until seeing the data and/or corroborating studies I have to agree with boba that confirmation bias is probably at play.

I recommend taking a look at this.


Certainly there's a great deal of skepticism and reason for caution, but I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss the possibility that they're on to something. No doubt, there will be attempts to replicate and we'll know more then.

No doubt, there will be attempts to replicate and we'll know more then.
I like that, surely someone will try, won't they? (Not likely, but we can pretend if it makes us all feel better.) OK on to the analysis. The paper is OK, and of course it is "rigorous" enough with a couple of exceptions: Transgenic mice. The experiment used two strains of transgenic mice, and made no attempt to replicate the effects in wild type. Transgenics were selected solely on their ease of use in inserting Green Fluorescent Proteins (GFP) and other markers for examining nerve tissues. Well, now this alone should not account for the effect they report; however, what if the effect does not occur in WT? What if the effect is an artifact of the transgenic material in the animals? Little effort was made to find the mechanism, only to report the result. (See below) OK it's a quibble, but a significant one. genetic backgrounds of mice vary results of experiments by wide degrees, and I mean to the point where a gross phenotype never occurs on a different background. This paper would never be accepted by a developmental journal without accounting for that factor, which is why it's in neuroscience, different reviewers, different interests. The other one is the confirmation bias was supposedly avoided by "All behavior was performed in a double-blind manner and data acquired using automated computer software programs." Namely the animals supposedly respond in a set manner to the fear conditions. Without knowing how broad or how narrow these conditions were monitored and determined to be fear response, this is open to very subtle analysis criteria. It simply is too difficult to tease out the subjective from the objective. On the plus side, they did make a real effort at showing the supposed methylation effects on a locus in the sperm. I have my doubts about the conclusions, but I don't review papers, I just make figures for them. Back to the first point: if a development lab collaborates with a neuroscience lab, and are able to get a finding similar to this through peer review, where they explain how the gametes are changed, and how the results are not contaminated by genetic background or confirmation bias, then it's new paradigm time. Think about, this overturns much of evolutionary paradigm, and opens up avenues into understanding the development of instinctual response. Unfortunately, I doubt any Dev lab I know has the resources or desire to delve into this can of worms. Perhaps if they started with drosophilia, they might identify some of the mechanisms, provided it's true. But a mouse lab, not a chance, the difficulty would be out of the orbit if not the solar system; just too many factors for which to account.



I wonder if this is related to the phenomenon of monarch butterflies knowing the route of migration over thousands of miles--a path their GRANDPARENTS took before them.

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