Dr. Oded Rechavi: Genes & the Inheritance of Memories Across Generations
In this episode, my guest is Oded Rechavi, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at Tel Aviv University and expert in how genes are inherited, how experiences shape genes and remarkably, how some memories of experiences can be passed via genes to offspring. We discuss his research challenging long-held tenets of genetic inheritance and the relevance of those findings to understanding key biological and psychological processes including metabolism, stress and trauma. He describes the history of the scientific exploration of the “heritability of acquired traits” and how epigenetics and RNA biology can account for some of the passage of certain experience-based memories. He discusses the importance of model organisms in scientific research and describes his work on how stressors and memories can be passed through small RNA molecules to multiple generations of offspring in ways that meaningfully affect their behavior. Nature vs. nurture is a commonly debated theme; Dr. Rechavi’s work represents a fundamental shift in our understanding of that debate, as well as genetic inheritance, brain function and evolution.
The idea that brain activity can impact the fate of the progeny goes against a central tenet of biology. Posner et al. describe an RNA-based mechanism for how neuronal responses to environmental cues can be translated into heritable information that affects the behavior of progeny.
Induced expression of the Flock House virus in the soma of C. elegans results in the RNAi-dependent production of virus-derived, small-interfering RNAs (viRNAs), which in turn silence the viral genome. We show here that the viRNA-mediated viral silencing effect is transmitted in a non-Mendelian manner to many ensuing generations.