General Question

troubleinharlem's avatar

If someone learns something, can it be passed down genetically to their offspring?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7991points) December 22nd, 2009

My mom can whistle really, really well, but only because she taught herself. I, on the other hand, can’t whistle very well at all.

Can genes be passed down for traits that were learned? I’m not sure if I’m asking this right…

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14 Answers

Sarcasm's avatar

The Goa’uld pass down knowledge to their offspring.
In the real world, that doesn’t happen

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

No,I still stuck my tongue on a battery.

Freedom_Issues's avatar

I don’t think learned behavior can be passed down genetically. However, the ability to learn and teach yourself new things (which most people have, I’m saying the ability to learn well) can.

LocoLuke's avatar

I don’t believe there is anything like genetic memory. People might have a predisposition to do better at some activities, genes might make it easier for them to stay in shape, faster metabolism, possibly intelligence (I’ve seen plenty of counterexamples for this though), but nothing like what you’re trying to describe.
We don’t know exactly how memory is stored, but I think it’s pretty well established that it has to do with the connections we make in our brains, not in the genetic code we pass on to our children.

faye's avatar

They can pass down the intelligence necessary to want to explore, research, and try to whistle.

clearhythm's avatar

While scientists have been pushing Mendelian / Darwinian genetics for some time, a new field was recently born called Epigenetics. You can learn more about it here:

The basic idea is that some learned traits can actually be passed genetically to offspring. There’s multiple scientific studies demonstrating this phenomenon. It’s been a profound and shocking finding, that has literally turned the whole field of genetics research on its head.

That being said, it seems unlikely that “whistling” would be subject to this type of inheritance. Of course, you could always buy a whistle, or have kids and maybe they will be able to whistle.

colliedog's avatar

No evidence it has worked in my case.

laureth's avatar

Wasn’t Lamarckian evolution debunked?

wundayatta's avatar

As @clearhythm said, learned responses to an environment can indeed be passed on. There is a cyclical relationship between genes and environment. Genes set out what is possible, and the environment determines which of those possibilities gets enacted. So if one person adapts pretty well (say, by becoming a champion whistler), their children will have a higher chance of becoming whistlers.

People will say that’s just environment—parents teaching kids what they know. Well, that could largely be true. However, it seems like there is evidence showing that genes can be changed by environment. I’m sure all of us with children have seen behaviors in our children that remind us of ourselves, and they are things we never taught them.

dpworkin's avatar

You guys need to look up Lamarck and Lysenko. Learned traits cannot be inherited.

LeopardGecko's avatar

No, it cannot be passed down genetically. BUT if your mom learned how to teach yourself, there is a chance that you would be able to teach yourself too. If you ask her how she learned you MAY be able to do this. There is also a higher chance that you will not.

mattbrowne's avatar

Lamarck is wrong. Darwin is correct. So, in general the answer is no.

However, entire populations over the long run can change their bodies and behavior. From Wikipedia:

“In population genetics and evolution, genetic memory represents the recorded history of adaptive changes in a species. Selection of organisms carrying genes coding for the best adapted proteins results in the evolution of species. An example for such a genetic memory is the innate immune response that represents a recording of the history of common microbial and viral pathogens encountered throughout the evolutionary history of the species.”

Another examples include: fear of heights, fear or large snakes, fear of large spiders and so forth.

@LocoLuke – The genetic code influences the connections in our brains. And so does the environment during the lifetime of an individual.

LocoLuke's avatar

@mattbrowne Of course it does, but those connections certainly do not influence our genetic code. In order for the kind of genetic memory the OP speaks of to occur, it would have to happen both ways.

mattbrowne's avatar

@LocoLuke – They do influence our genetic code indirectly because certain code is favored over other code. One might find a rattlesnake cute and loves to pet one, another might find it scary. Guess who’s got more kids.

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