It looks like we might be able to start putting the nature-nurture debate to bed. Epigenetics – the new hot-button research topic in both science and the media – is the ability of genes to be influenced by our experiences, altering our genetic make-up in real time. By changing the chemical signals that course through your brain and body, you can actually turn genes on or off, a process that can then influence your future actions. Thus, in some ways, epigenetics can be thought of as the bridge between nature and nurture—your behavior and environment affecting your biology, and vice versa.
I have an article in The Atlantic this week exploring epigenetics through a couple recent studies investigating inherited learning – where a parent’s experience alters their own genetic make-up, and this change is then passed on to their child. Admittedly, this all sounds a bit too much like Lamarckism, and scientists are quick to caution that the field is still in its infancy, so it’s hard to tell just how important this will be for our understanding of genes and behavior. But in the mean time, some of things we’re discovering about our parents’ unseen influence on us are pretty damn cool.
Check out the full Atlantic piece here.