Know your genetic heritage

The legacy in our genes

“It runs in the family,” we say lightly, and believe that, for example, the members of the Meier clan are all thin or particularly clever or fearful. “It runs in the family” - a rather colloquial expression, which, however, exactly reflects the latest state of human genetic research.

One thing is certain: our parents pass on far more to us than their genes. Their living conditions, their stress, their hunger and their diseases are also reflected in our genetic make-up. What they experience before we are born also reaches us through molecular biological processes in their cells. Scientists are beginning to understand how the environment affects genes. They bridge the gap between the environment and genes, between the innate and the learned, between heritage and experience. The influences of previous generations do not change the DNA sequence immediately, the change takes place "above" the genes - according to the name of the new research area: epigenetics (from the Greek epi = to, on, after).

The researchers tell of Holocaust survivors whose children are increasingly suffering from stress-related illnesses because a stress-processing gene is more strongly blocked in their parents' genetic makeup than in Jews of the same age who did not experience the Holocaust.

They report of malnourished grandmothers who pass on obesity to their grandchildren. And of traumatized parents who leave their children with a fragile resistance to the adversities of life.

And they ask: What was evolution thinking about it?

Read how epigenetics will fundamentally change our understanding of humans and at the same time prevent deeply injured people from passing on their suffering to their descendants

in the 5/2018 issue of National Geographic magazine. Now one Magazine subscription to lock!