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How Dad's Stresses Get Passed Along to Offspring (www.scientificamerican.com)
385 points by chablent 5 days ago | hide | past | web | 110 comments | favorite

Might be why I have 10.000 levels of anxiety no matter what I do, even now that I have a good standard of a living in a decent country. I also was confused why they didn't mention "epigenetics".

Going a bit personal, continue at your own patience. I was born in a third-world country of a dad that finished his college at 35, while having a kid, waking up at 5 and sleeping after midnight, that would barely see me, as he had to make meets end for our family. Also it was in a currency inflation period and also my mother couldn't breastfeed me, so they had even more problems. Aaaand I also had a lot of health problems at birth. Shits hard. Not to forget that my uncle died shot in the head, mom died from cancer and 99 other problems.

But to me honest, that made me who I am today. I get much more anxious from my past, rather than some "changes in the company" and #firstworldproblems I have today, this gives me some edge against most of the privileged people I work/live with today. Anxiety isn't bad, it can also be good. It would be great if I could get rid of the one from the past, from the times I ate paper with salt, the struggle I saw from my parents, the times we were unsure of the future... and all the bad memories and images that pop up in my head daily.

My brother for instance was born 12 years after me, when my parents had a house and really lacks the "immediateness" I had all my life and still carry it up to this day. He now can study college but he doesn't even know what he wants to do, meanwhile I remember I was already grabbing life by the balls by the time I was 18. He is much happier though, and I can understand him, not really blaming. It is better that way, I guess. But things only greatly change when under pressure.

Those emotions are there for us, and as long as it doesn't create too many bad side effects, we should accept that they do exist and they are great for us.

Anxiety can be an asset for a programming career.

A program has way more failure modes than modes where it is working properly.

I noticed years ago, that being attuned to danger (anxiety) helps me guard against many potential problems in software that others often miss.

But you have to be careful with this approach, it can be like playing with fire. It is very effective, but also can drain you if you over-rely on it.

> Anxiety can be an asset for a programming career.

I have to disagree here. "Being attuned to danger" is, that's an intellectual thing and is good. Anxiety is an emotional response which is unhealthy and affects behavior in negative ways -- e.g. not sleeping well due to worry, eating badly, etc., and those things will reduce your professional performance.

Agreed. A little anxiety is good and helps me stay vigilant but a little more than that and suddenly I'm overthinking things.

God, no. How do you decide what stack to work on? Should I use Python 2 for maximum compatibility, or Python 3 since it's the future? Should I spend my time on KDE or Gnome. Do I use Angular 2 or Angular 3? TypeScript or JavaScript? vi or emacs? Which flavor of Linux should I learn? Oh no, I chose wrong, everyone is getting $500k at a FAANG! I picked the wrong stack! I chose wrong! I lost years! I'm not getting any younger! I missed the opportunity!

Yeah, no.

I upvoted your comment for its poignancy.

If people reading this don't understand your comment, then please reread it and post a question.

Honestly, I faced this so much when I was in tech that the stress level became ridiculous.

Jesus. This comment is giving me anxiety. I had similar poverty issues growing up in India. My mother died for the lack of money to pay for a 500$ surgery and we didn't have $$ for funeral. I get anxiety like anything else even with the slightest disrupt in routine. I get breadth shortness and pain in stomach. My current strategy to deal with this is the Bruce Banner strategy to consider it as normal.

I recommend you to pick up meditation, John Yates - Mind Illuminated is a great book for this. Alternatively a mindfullnes based stress reduction course.

I disagree that anxiety is being "attuned to danger", to me just is not feeling well, & it's another one of those "modern epidemics", cut to the point, it's a modern malaise, so much so that the more in line w/ human-animal you are, the less anxious you are e.g.: being active/doing sports, being in nature, not being time-pressed(trivia: we only started living by the clock some 200 years ago), having strong social ties, leisure etc.

I also disagree that it's an "asset", I'll say already that I hate this type of language that turns everything into money, but from what I can tell and have read, being anxious/depressed/unwell is cognitive & emotionally taxing, and most way-too-anxious people have a hard time just thinking straight, so I think there's no way this this thesis stands.

I'm a very analytic/cautious/rational person and I think this is very related to being able to be a good professional, but I've also always felt that anxiety was poison and got the hell away from what I felt was sources, which I don't regret. I also think it's at least as much exogenous(i.e. environmental) as it is endogenous(i.e. oh you came from the factory with X so that's it). Relax is king.

I hear you -- anxiety and vigilance are related, but not always identical

It's very true that all the programmers I know who write missing critical code (Ie. who will get blamed when it goes wrong) are all anxious characters. I have personally found that a month or two out a year doing something involving people like hiking or hospitality work definitely lowers the levels.

Sure — a certain type of cynicism comes with having anxiety issues, and that cynicism can be valuable when applied to programming.

That said, anxiety taken as a whole is a severely debilitating condition. It's not even remotely close to being an asset.

Have you ever had a real panic attack? Like can't function think you're going to die?

That's not the same as being a bit paranoid.

No I haven't, but anxiety is experienced on a spectrum.

Are you saying only people who have had panic attacks have known what 'real' anxiety is?

That is not a plausible claim. There are plenty of people who are anxious, but have never had a panic attack.

I strongly disagree. Being aware of any failure mode has nothing to do with anxiety, nor is anxiety associated with a greater awareness of how a system operates. Those are very basic engineering principles. Emotional problems don't play any role on system design.

I call this asset "Risk Aware" because I don't like how the word Anxiety makes me feel.

Sure, I call it being "attuned to risk."

And, I didn't mention it above, but someone mentioned that anxiety was the least useful response to stress, but I'm not so sure.

At the individual level it's difficult to experience the world anxiously, but it benefits the group.

Imagine a bunch of monkeys sitting around foraging for food. Some are super chill and don't startle easily, but there will be a few that are anxious and "attuned to danger".

Those anxious monkeys will likely be the first to detect danger and alert the rest of the troupe.

You could say they are providing a service to the rest of the troupe by offloading the vigilance onto a few individuals.

I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and have suffered several completely debilitating panic attacks[1] during my adult life. I can tell you now, it is NOT an asset, no where close. Without my daily drug regimen, I cannot function normally; the mere thought of anything stressful will completely push me over the edge.

What you are calling anxiety is not anxiety, it's merely being hyper-aware, helped along with a small dose of Adrenalin.


[1] real ones, where you curl up into a ball, shaking, crying and wishing you were dead, whilst simultaneously completely believing you are dying.

I'm very sorry you are experiencing panic attacks, but you are arguing from marginal cases.

It is possible to be predisposed to anxiety without ever having a panic attack.

If you want to make it sound really cool just call it hyper-vigilance.

You might have 99 problems, but writing an interesting and insightful Hacker News comment ain't one.

Book rec: The Body Keeps the Score.

Bessel van der Kolk has been one of the most important PTSD researchers of the last 40 years, and his work on the embodied aspects of trauma and stress is fantastic.

Thanks a lot for your recommendation.

Cognitive behavioral therapy really helps with anxiety.

Meditation and SSRIs too.

> Buddha got it exactly right: You need a method for taming the elephant, for changing your mind gradually. Meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac are three effective means of doing so.

-- Jonathan Haidt, page 43 in The Happiness Hypothesis (recommended!)

I presume you're from Brazil and lived through the hyperinflation in the 80s-early 90s. I can totally relate, being Brazilian as well and having experienced the same.

Yes. It sucked bad time.

I am surprised that the article does not mention the word epigenetics.

- Epigenetics and the influence of our genes | Courtney Griffins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTBg6hqeuTg

But there are also other, probably more important, ways to "inherit":

- Placebo Effect VS No-Cebo Effect https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jw00Pux5Fs

- Dr. Bruce Lipton Explains HOW WE ARE PROGRAMMED AT BIRTH (an eye opening video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TivZYFlbX8

- Biology of Belief - by Bruce Lipton (full documentary) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjj0xVM4x1I

- Depression and anxiety: Have we gotten it wrong? | UpFront https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apkbMtkwU2g

- Causes of Psychosis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKwK0DdjQac

- 2011 - Liz Mullinar - Treating the core problem of childhood trauma. https://youtu.be/svX3fEdVTLQ?t=11

About brain circuits regarding emotions:

- You aren't at the mercy of your emotions -- your brain creates them | Lisa Feldman Barrett https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gks6ceq4eQ

- Cultivating Wisdom: The Power Of Mood | Lisa Feldman Barrett https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYAEh3T5a80

That is a lot of YouTube videos you have dropped. I appreciate the aggregation of resources. Care to synthesize your knowledge for us?

Thanks. Many people would consider many links as spam as they prefer personal opinions without further facts and efforts.

The videos are already quite concentrated so I doubt that many lines of written text would be beneficial enough.

The main point is that genes are just blueprints for proteins.

Biology of Belief - by Bruce Lipton (full documentary) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjj0xVM4x1I

The most important factors in life are determined by the social and psychological and external and internal bio-chemical environment. One has much freedom to change and improve these environments.

It's worth noting that the impact of epigenetics is almost certainly minor in comparison to plain old genetics.

It depends on how you define epigenetics.


> Epigenetics most often denotes changes that affect gene activity and expression ...

> The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable,[3][4] either in the progeny of cells or of organisms.

The most important factors in life are most likely not determined by genes.

If you have the time, watch Biology of Belief - by Bruce Lipton (full documentary). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjj0xVM4x1I

Genes are just passive blueprints for proteins.

It is your social and psychological and external and internal bio-chemical "environment" that determines what genes are expressed.

Also: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/geneonoff

  They fuck you up, your mom and dad
  They may not mean to, but they do.
  They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.

  But they were fucked up in their turn
  By fools in old-style hats and coats,
  Who half the time were soppy-stern
  And half at one another's throats.

  Man hands on misery to man
  It deepens like a coastal shelf.
  Get out as early as you can
  And don't have any kids yourself.

  -- Philip Larkin

Honestly I think it's the other way around. Yes, we inherit some issues from our parents, both through genetics and through the way we're raised. But you don't have to go many generations back (at least in my family) to see a massive upwards trend in how well we were raised and cared for.

I look back at my parents and see flaws in them from the ways they were raised, which I don't have because they worked so hard to make my childhood better. And then from them back to my grandparents, who despite their own flaws and challenges, mostly did far better than their parents.

Of course it is. As for everybody on HN. That's the survivalship bias.

The lament of an entitled little jerk, who does not feel an iota of gratitude for all that he was given, and is not in the mood to give anything to anyone.

I don't know; I'm not at all familiar with Larkin, or his other work. Honestly, when I first came across this I was at a bad place, and your comment would be a mean, but not entirely misplaced description of my disposition at the time. During this time, I was living very close to my mother, and working for my father.

Today, I read it with some black humor; I can't take it at face value at all. It's obvious to me that it's not the whole truth, but perhaps it's a perspective that it's ok to bring out once in a while. I guess, what I mean is, it's common to feel resentment towards your parents at times, and that feeling, too, has a place in the arts.

I came across this analysis of the poem[0]; not least interesting is that Larkin may well have written it while living with his own mother. To stay too close to your parents in adulthood can be _very_ hard, in ways that aren't always easily seen from outside. Not from malice, but I felt it exactly the same way (the second verse is not a bad description of my grand-parents--in their worst moments; I knew them and I love them very much, but they were no saints).

Anyway, I think you have to read it with a good sense of dark humor. As the linked article says, they do, literally, fuck us up into this world, our parents. ;)

There is a response to Larkin's "This Be The Verse", by Richard Kell. While I agree with the spirit of it, I just think it's bad poetry. Not least that it starts with a moral commandment. It's like, "if you were born to 'bad' parents, they were 'bad' parents". Well, no shit.

    This Be The Converse

    They buck you up, your mum and dad,
    Or if they don't they clearly should.
    No decent parents let the bad
    They've handed on defeat the good.

    Forebears you reckon daft old farts,
    Bucked up in their turn by a creed
    Whose homely mixture warmed their hearts,
    Were just the counsellors you need.

    Life is no continental shelf:
    It lifts and falls as mountains do.
    So, if you have some kids yourself,
    They could reach higher ground than you.
[0] https://interestingliterature.com/2016/06/24/a-short-analysi...

Not sure how you are a self-entitled jerk to note that your parents give you their good and their bad qualities.

Imagine a future where we can use sperm samples as a panel test for health. We could measure the levels of stress, but eventually many other attributes. There are other epigenetic findings, such as obese fathers producing children more likely to also be obese. These could be re-tooled as an evaluation.

I can imagine that future, and it is frightening. As a society we imagine our technological progress to somehow imply that we are actually advancing as a species. Recent events suggest otherwise, and putting evolutionary control in the hands of those kinds of people (read: anybody) is likely to be really bad for us all.

The more opportunities for personal, "greedy" optimization compared to global, societal optimization, the more frightening it gets.

Why is it frightening to screen against health problems that cause prolonged suffering throughout an individual’s lifetime?

Because of two things:

1. when it comes down to it, the notion of a disease is actually very wishy-washy. Is homosexuality a disease? The difference between yes and no has a lot more to do with cultural changes in the last 50 years than any science.

2. A lot of things are heritable, and could be health problems if you looked at them the right way. Poverty is heritable, and poverty also results in worse health outcomes, ergo, people below the poverty line shouldn't reproduce, right?

1. That's just the gray fallacy. "Knowing only gray, you conclude that all grays are the same shade. You mock the simplicity of the two-color view, yet you replace it with a one-color view." Just because some cases are uncertain doesn't mean all cases are equally uncertain. As Asimov put it in The Relativity of Wrong: "When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

2. Let's set aside the heredity assumptions for a moment and go straight to the heart of the matter: As a proportion of the people who will be born in the next generation, would you rather have a larger or smaller fraction of them be poor for life? Why?

So, could people discard "gay" sperm or not? Evolutionary it is a bad trait.

Recent events?

Eugenics much ?

Perhaps. It seems analogous to women being able to evaluate the health of their ova.

Of course, and while we're at it, let's tax them extra to reproduce.

A modest proposal, but you should stress your satire more strongly to avoid swift downvoting.

Three in one, well done!

> It is pretty easy to stress out a mouse. Stick one into a tube it cannot wriggle out of, soak its bedding or blast white noise—and stress hormone levels shoot up, much as they do in people worrying about finances or facing incessant pressure at work.

Or, you know, much it would in people if you stick them in a tube they cant wriggle out of, soak their bed, or blast white noise...

As a dad with 2 girls who's been on SSRI medication for anxiety since I was a teenager, this makes me sad ;(

As another dad with anxiety problems: go easy on yourself. These kind of epigenetic effects are probabilistic - and even if they weren't, having anxiety isn't your fault.

As a father, there are far more direct effects you can have on your children's well-being, like providing them with food, shelter, emotional support, life experiences, educational opportunity, etc.

And I'm willing to bet that taking SSRIs helps you function better so that you can provide the environmental factors above.

Thanks! Yes, Zoloft has been a God send. I cannot imagine functioning without it. I'm shocked when there are studies that claim that SSRIs have little to no effect.

IANA doctor, but my understanding from years of trying every antidepressant on the market is that we don't currently understand why SSRIs help (some people) with depression. We know the mechanics of what they do, but not why that function has an antidepressant effect in some people. We don't really have a good idea what mechanically causes depression at all - in some cases, it's related to serotonin, in which case an SSRI might help. But there are a lot of other cases that aren't so obvious, and as far as my understanding goes, the "lot of other cases" is enough to make those who might be genuinely helped by SSRIs' mechanical function (as opposed to a placebo function, which is a whole 'nother issue in this research) be effectively invisible in the data.

A very rough metaphor (and again IANA doctor or scientist, just someone who's struggled with this personally for two decades) would be, "Stitches help people who are bleeding!" Yes, that is true in some cases and under certain circumstances, but what we've been doing with antidepressant drugs is roughly the equivalent of treating every possible bleeding wound with some variant of stitches or butterfly closures. Very effective for some, not helpful for others, actively harmful for a minority.

Funny you should mention that today. I was just reading an attempt at making sense of that: http://slatestarcodex.com/2018/11/07/ssris-an-update/

I can't comment too much on how to interpret this, but I recently read a paper that includes estimates of heritability for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder and Phobias.


> Striking evidence that harsh conditions affect a man’s children came from crop failures and war ravaging Europe more than a century ago. In those unplanned human experiments, prolonged famine appeared to set off a host of health changes in future generations, including higher cholesterol levels and increased rates of obesity and diabetes.

this is astonishing - without criticizing this article - the emotional ping/pong effect of health studies in general is really crazy : as in "eggs are good for you again"

edit: to be clear : I'm not offering a critique of health studies in general of this one specifically; just an observation about the emotional response to these types of articles.

Your instinct is spot on. These stress inheritance studies were widely panned by experts (see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2015/sep/11/why-im-...).

This is part of what Eva Jablonka talks about as "soft inheritance" http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1415...

These sorts of discoveries really push towards a re-evaluation of Lamarck's thought, frankly.

Is this really Lamarckism though? It seems that what the paper describes is a mechanism in which specific cells "infuse" sperm with information relating to specific stresses.

Ultimately, we could interpret this mechanism as a trans-generational evolutionary defense against stresses (for instance, famines). But those mechanisms would themselves have evolved through the process of natural selection, and these "sperm influencing" cells would themselves be coded in our DNA.

That is to say, introducing a new kind of stress or environmental factor would not trigger any of these cells and would have no effect.

Correct me if I'm wrong but that's how I understood the paper.

I'm far from my field of expertise, but isn't your point similar to saying that English is in our DNA because the tools to learn and speak it are?

I think if you disqualify the changes DNA _enables_ (rather than directly encodes) then you've moved the goalposts a little.

> but isn't your point similar to saying that English is in our DNA because the tools to learn and speak it are?

No, but the ability to learn languages is in our DNA

> I think if you disqualify the changes DNA _enables_

What our DNA enables is the ability to learn a language, not the language itself.

Exactly, so extending this, the capacity to respond to these stress markers is in the DNA, but the specifics of how that will be expressed appears to be picked up environmentally and transmitted to offspring.

> but the specifics of how that will be expressed appears to be picked up environmentally and transmitted to offspring.

I mean I guess that is a possibility, but that would be incredibly generic wouldn't it? That a cell could somehow identify novel environmental factors and figure out what gene expressions to enhance/neutralize in the next generation to adapt to that novel environmental factor? Strains credulity.

> These sorts of discoveries really push towards a re-evaluation of Lamarck's thought, frankly.

They fundamentally don’t. Lamarckism was an explanatory model for evolution, and even if these results turn out to be true, they are not evolution. They are transient changes, whereas genetic changes are permanent. You need permanence for adaptation. Lamarckism fundamentally cannot explain the acquisition of new traits, only the (relatively short-term) modulation of existing ones. A good explanation of the difference, and why Lamarckism definitely failed as an explanatory model for evolution, can be found in Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker.

Jablonka’s hypothesis is widely regarded as falsified (e.g. http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/05...).

The scientific method needed strict rigor to compete against a superstitious world.

Now we are seeing that there exist things which only MAY be repeatable experiments but reaching consensus falls outside of that particular method.

I think eventually we'll find a gradient of reality where natural selection isn't the end all be all, just as much as spontaneous creation wasn't either. Learned behaviors being inheritable genetically being just the tip of the iceberg. Heresy now, but I can see where this goes.

Indeed. Eva is a spectacular scientist, and one of the pioneers of this field.

There have been similar findings presented in other research shared on HN in the last year. For anyone interested in the topic, you might find more on the subject under the terms microRNA and epigenetics.

Some other interesting links: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-018-0146-2 https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/penn-stressed-dads-affect-o...

Completely annecdotal but my father and I have been treated for the same psychological stress problems at the same age. Both at mid 20s diagnosed with GAD or in my case panic disorder, both have been treated by the same doctor (and psych) and the results have been mostly the same. So this makes a lot of sense to me.

This might be genetic for you two. The article is about environmental stress changing the sperm.

Or it could be some other (conventionally inherited) trait that you and your father share.

So the takeaway here is that you should have kids before the weight of the world crushes your spirit. Luckily, all the stress in my life somehow mysteriously manifested after I had kids :)

The wrong partner contributes to this.

Are there different types of stresses? Do these physical external stresses (lack of food, wet bed, being physically stuck) have the same affect as a internal stress that we may have some control over (existential crisis, feeling stuck, social anxiety)?

Or is it the ability to deal with stress, regardless of the source? If I'm reading the study[1] correctly, offspring of stressed fathers were less stressed than offspring of non-stressed fathers:

> Alternatively, a reduced physiological stress response may reflect an adaptive response programmed by the paternal lineage as a protective measure, ensuring greater offspring fitness in what is expected to be a more stressful environment.

Interestingly, this doesn't seem to be associated with "serotonin in mediating changes in [...] stress", most commonly associated with SSRIs, which are used to treat psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, etc.

[1] http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/21/9003.long

It is generally agreed that both types of stressors environmental and psycho-social, have the same effects. These effects can be measured in hormone levels in the blood.

Of course malnutrition and other physical insults might also cause permanent injuries.

Prolonged elevated cortisol levels?

As the son of a Vietnam Veteran (drafted) and Purple Heart recipient (shot in the stomach with an AK-47 by the enemy) and severe motorcycle accident survivor (Semi-truck didn't see him and merged into him on the freeway at high speed. He was told he would never walk again after this one, however he managed to learn how to use his leg like it was prosthetic, having very little actual control over it despite it still being there)... This is unfortunate and makes way too much sense to me :\ :( Not only did it effect his ability to raise me environmentally like a more normal father, but I've always suspected it ran deeper than this, as the kind of mental issues I have dealt with never really made total sense based on how I was raised alone.

> Striking evidence that harsh conditions affect a man’s children came from crop failures and war ravaging Europe more than a century ago. In those unplanned human experiments, prolonged famine appeared to set off a host of health changes in future generations, including higher cholesterol levels and increased rates of obesity and diabetes.

Going fairly out there, I wonder if this could perhaps be part of the cause of the current "obesity epidemic". If stress causes obesity in subsequent generations, and if we have obesity, maybe one explanation is that previous generations were extraordinarily stressed.

Maybe there were social changes that cause our modern lives to be more stressful. Or even just being more consistently stressful might cause the incidence to go up.

It's funny because it's like science is catching up to Buddhism's "karma" concept, as well as their philosophy on interdependence. Essentially, emphasizing the illusion of "independence" and how we are actually much more connected than we think we are. Or in plain englush the "myth of the self made" people.

The genetic perspective is very limited however. Take soldiers in WWII. They didn't just pass their stress to their offspring. They raised their children differently than other men/women would.

That those studies that were done on children of holocaust survivor. How did holocaust survivors raise their own childreN? How did they related to them emotionally? And so on. I think it's quite easy to guess here that those traumatic experiences must have significantly affected their ability to be fully present as a father or mother. And typically this is the big black box. Nobody speaks about that. And how do you measure that, when the affected parents typically are unable to acknowledge that themselves?

Karma is an ancient concept far older than Buddhism.

This is completely anecdotal.

I had minor anxiety issues, but fasting has helped me almost eliminate it. I experience a calmness and can figure a clear route now when faced with a situation compared to earlier when it would cause anxiety.

My SO has been mentioning this often now, which is external validation for me.

So I guess the lesson is while we may have stresses passed along, we must figure ways out to overcome it, hopefully there are and I am not denying that I accidentally discovered one!

Instead of now collectively selecting for men a different way to get mentally stable offspring, this seems like something that can be repaired to promote a desired result, now that we know its there.

The cells that are near the sperm transmit this data, according to the research. I bet a drug or even a dietary change could target that, just like flouride in water targets healthy teeth.

does anyone know if this or epigenetic inheritance only result from stress during the time the sperm were grown or whether sperm carry such information years after stress, which has now gone - i.e. if one was stressed over some interval in the past but is now happy and relaxed, does one's sperm still carry the marks of stress from the previous stressfull period ?

> this or epigenetic inheritance

This is an instance of epigenetic inheritance.

As for your question, we don’t know yet (also because these results are still terribly preliminary). It’s conceivable that stress permanently modifies something in the epididymis (where sperm is matured), and thus affects all sperm coming thereafter. It’s also possible, though probably less likely, that only currently present sperm is affected. From personal experience, working with sperm samples is a pain — the transcriptional signal you get is incredibly noisy, and every ground-breaking interpretation should be taken with a grain of salt.

ok now I'd like to know if these epigenetics marks are sensed by the egg and selected against - does the egg refuse to be fertilized by stressed sperm ?

The oocyte doesn’t have a direct way of recognising that sperm is stressed. However, stress does weird things to cells (the sperm, in this case), and the consequences of that are often severe. This definitely has an effect on the fitness of individual sperm cells, and purely stochastically this means that it’s more likely for healthy sperm to inseminate the egg.

And after the fusion of sperm and egg, stressed sperm likely exhibits genetic damage (despite the topic on hand being non-genetic information), and this in turn makes it less likely that the zygote (fertilised egg) will be able to divide correctly. This leads to a spontaneous abortion of pregnancy — a process that naturally occurs more frequently than actually successful pregnancies (this happens within days of fertilisation and goes unnoticed).

So to answer your question: the egg itself probably doesn’t have a way of sensing this directly but there are many factors that indirectly have a similar effect. Stressed sperm is selected against.

superb answer thanks

This is not a bad thing, the sperm is telling the next generation: be ready for stress in the environment you're about to be in.

Yes and no. In a sense, it is neither good nor bad. It's simply information. Read: This is what you need to prepare for.

It makes sense, and I would venture to say it impacts the expected lifespan of a species. That is, to presume the DNA from X (e.g., in humans 25 - 35 yrs) ago is just as worthy in the current environment, could be a false if not dangerous assumption. Supplementing DNA with more up to date information helps the species to survive.


Reminds of the recent series on the Radiolab podcast on gonads.

In particular how external factors like viruses can affect the reproductive material: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/infective-heredity

(But really, the whole series is fun)

And here I always thought the Animus in Assassins Creed was completely ridiculous. Huh.

> the way a mouse physiologically responds to stress looks noticeably different if—months before conception—its father endured a period of stress. Somehow “their brain develops differently than if their dad hadn’t experienced that stress,”

The article is not clear about what the actual changes are; can't figure out if they are good or bad.

This general area (epigentics) is what inspired me to take up a more serious routine of lifting. I’m not sure if it will have any particular effect, but I suppose I am significantly healthier now than in my 20s either way.

Scott Alexander wrote a short-story sequel to GATTACA on his blog SlateStarCodex this past summer that dealt with epigenetics and education that he called the GATTACA trilogy: http://slatestarcodex.com/2018/06/19/the-gattaca-trilogy/

> “Well, you know how things are. We want to make sure we get only the healthiest, most on-point individuals for our program. We used to do genetic testing, make sure that people’s DNA was pre-selected for success. But after the incident with the Gattaca Corporation and that movie they made about the whole thing, public opinion just wasn’t on board, and Congress nixed the whole enterprise. Things were really touch-and-go for a while, but then we came up with a suitably non-invasive replacement. Epigenetics!”

As a person of color in America (my only experience and the experience of my known family) this makes me sad.

As another person of color, I find it difficult to understand why. No one can choose their parents, or their past. No point in worrying about it, when the future is waiting to unfold anyway.

This casts new light to the the whole "Stop complaining about the past - you weren't alive then, so it doesn't affect you" argument, doesn't it?

You may find consolation in that you’re still better off than people of color in Africa or Asia or South America.

That is a very broad brush you're painting with.

A couple of years, there was another article on how holocaust survivors passed their stress 'genes' to their progeny.


Then, some doubts about it: https://www.haaretz.com/science-and-health/.premium-doubts-a...

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