Can epigenetic changes be passed down generations?


Can epigenetic changes be passed down generations?

In: Biology

If the epigenetic change occurs in a gamete-producing cell, yes they can. Daughter cells inherit the same epigenetic pattern as the mother cell had, although it may then be modified by other processes if the cell is designed to do a different task.

“Epigenetic changes” encompasses a lot of different things. You have DNA methylation, histone methylation/acetylation, chromatin accessibility, and chromosome conformation just to name a few. As far as I’m aware, the only type of epigenetic change currently shown to potentially be heritable is DNA methylation, but there is some controversy currently about whether the existing studies are actually just multi-generational exposure. If you consider a pregnant woman in her third trimester, for example, you have the mother, the unborn child, and that unborn child has already developed many of her egg cells that will eventually be the mother’s grandchildren. So you could have three generations exposed to an environmental factor simultaneously. The Dutch famine study, probably the most famous study of epigenetic inheritance, may actually just be showing this phenomenon.

So the short answer is that currently isn’t a definitive answer to your question.