Thursday, February 18, 2016

Genetic or Ancestral Memory...

Our DNA does not fade like an ancient parchment; it does not rust in the ground like the sword of a warrior long dead.  It is not eroded by wind or rain, nor reduced to ruin by fire and earthquake.  It is the traveler from an ancient land who lives within us all.”   Bryan Sykes

Food for thought...

Have you ever heard of Genetic or ancestral memory?

Psychologist Carl Jung called it racial memory, feelings and ideas, traits, intuitions, inherited from our ancestors as part of a collective unconscious. It is a generally agreed upon principle that we inherit physical traits from our parents; height, eye and hair color, body shape, propensities for certain diseases or conditions. Why not the possibility that we can inherit certain memories, ideas, or wisdom also from our parents or even grandparents? Animals inherit instinct, can humans inherit some kind of instinct too? If your mother was frightened by a house fire when she was a child can that explain your otherwise unexplainable innate fear of fire, even though you have never experienced one in your own house? Can memories be encoded on the dna within us?

Sounds like a good idea to develop a novel around, doesn't it?

The 1988 movie, "Altered States" explores this idea. The main character experiences the memories of his ancestors.

Maybe it has something to do with deja vu, maybe what some people feel are memories from a past life are really memories from their ancestors that have somehow been transferred to them from their dna.
Brown-Crested Flycatcher

Here are some examples of genetic memory in the animal kingdom. Sparrows, thrushes and warblers have to learn their bird song from hearing other birds, but bird species such as flycatchers know how to sing their songs without ever hearing other bird songs. The songs are intricate, and even when the bird is raised in a sound proof room it can still give the complex bird call of it's species. It has never heard or learned it, it just knows it.

Monarch butterflies make a mind boggling 2500 mile trip from Canada to Mexico for the winter season. They return in the spring. But did you know it takes the butterflies three generations to complete this round trip? Butterflies returning to Canada have never been there before, how do they know the way? It's not like a salmon returning to where it was spawned. Does the butterfly inherit the knowledge of how to make this daunting trip from it's ancestors?
Monarch Butterfly

An interesting study from Emory University School of Medicine shows that some dna information can be chemically changed by the experiences parent mice have and that they do pass this chemically changed dna onto their offspring.

Mice were taught to have an aversion to a special smell, the smell was something like cherry blossoms. The offspring of the mice that did not like the smell inherited the same aversion to the smell, even though they were not taught to fear it by scientists. They were born with a built in distaste of the same smell their parents did not like. It was discovered that chemical changes occurred in the parent mouse dna that the offspring also inherited. Because of those chemical changes, the offspring also disliked the same smell. The same experiment was done with nervous or neglectful mothering by mice.

                "Darwin and Freud walk into a bar. Two alcoholic mice — a mother and her son —
                sit on two bar stools, lapping gin from two thimbles. The mother mouse looks up
                and says,  “Hey, geniuses, tell me how my son got into this sorry state.”
                                         “Bad inheritance,” says Darwin.
                                         “Bad mothering,” says Freud."

                        (Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes, Discover, June 25, 2015.)

The nature vs. nurture debate has gone on for years, these two avenues of thought are essentially opposite one another. Now scientists are learning that some experiences actually have the power to change the make-up of the proteins surrounding our dna. These types of conundrums are what the field of Epigenetics studies.

Scientists used to think that these kind of genetic changes only occurred in the womb, before a person was born. But they have since come to realize that the molecular structure of dna could be modified also as an adult. These modifications can result in changes that, for instance, can lead to cancer.

A Duke University study showed that when female mice are fed a specific diet rich in the methyl chemical group (which changed the structure of the female mouse dna) that the offspring permanently inherited changed fur. It was like a mutation, only it did not change the actual dna, it changed how chemicals attached to the dna. The altered attachments were inherited by the offspring.

Professionals who study behavioral epigenetics are learning that traumatic experiences in our recent ancestors past have the ability to alter the molecular structure of the dna. For instance, if you are a person such as a "lost boy" from Africa whose parents or grandparents survived genocidal massacres, or someone wo grew up with abusive or alcoholic parents you may have inherited genetic "scars" from you ancestors whose genetic structure was actually modified because of those experiences. 

This modification can have negative and positive effects on the person who inherits it.

Scientists Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf did experiments with the mothering of rats, the offspring of the rats inherited altered dna of their mothers from the type of mothering they had (either very attentive or neglectful mothering) when the scientists injected chemicals into the brains of the offspring rats that changed the altered structure to a more normal structure, the behavior of the rat offspring changed. This possibility shows amazing promise. When the scientists first tried to get their research paper about the rats published they were met with cries of "That's not possible." "We refuse to believe it." Their research did finally get published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, entitled "Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior." (June 2004).

Genetic Memory: How We Know Things We Never Learned by Darold Treffert

There are also several books about Epigenetics. One I've recently read is: 

Epigenetics- The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance by Richard C. Francis

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