Scientists have long known from genetics why your children will be as insecure about their hairy back as you are, but new research suggests dads might not just pass their physical traits to future generations but their life experiences as well. Surprisingly, these inherited traits may have little to do with DNA at all and everything to do with lesser studied parts of chromosomes known as histones (which, incidentally, have nothing to do with your testicles).
Histones are proteins that act as a spool for DNA to wrap around. Researchers at McGill University, along with Swiss collaborators, altered histones in the sperm of mice to see how it affected their offspring. After manipulating the proteins in the sperm, researchers washed their hands. They then found that these histones could still cause negative repercussions 2 generations later. “When we saw the decreased survivability across generations and the developmental abnormalities, we were really blown away as it was never thought that altering something outside the DNA — a protein — could be involved in inheritance,” study author Sarah Kimmins told Futurity.
These proteins may cause “environmental memories” to be passed down from father to child.
Previous research has shown that histones can be affected by environmental factors, such as food, drugs, toxins, and stress, meaning these proteins may cause “environmental memories” to be passed down from father to child. It’s interesting to know your Grandpa’s V-Day celebration is an experience etched to this day in your genetics. But it’s a little disconcerting to know his live fast and die hard lifestyle during WW2 will forever affect your wellbeing.
Researchers are still trying to understand all of histones’ effects on the health of future generations and how the protein might help prevent or treat inherited diseases in the future. Histones might also help explain why your children get sick of hearing all of your awesome stories. That time you actually saw Pink Floyd on the Division Bell tour is already a part of them!