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Archive for February 5th, 2009

Lamarckian Evolution?

An interesting article that appeared yesterday in MIT Technology Review talks about a revival for Lamarckian evolution.

Lamarckian evolution is a theory that had been rejected by science that proposes an evolutionary mechanism of transfer of behaviors from generation to generation in some way not related to DNA. Sounds kind of tenuous and indeed as I said it had been rejected.

However new experimental work suggests that childhood experiences in mice and rats get passed on to their offspring.

Why does this interest me? This would give a new slant on the nature vs. nurture debate.

If you are an optimist it also means that if you have a gene for something, you can still change it and even help your children overcome their predestined fate.

Alternatively as a pessimist, it could give new meaning to Ex 34:7 “פוקד עון אבות על בנים, על שלישים  ועל רבעים ” [“he visits the ill-doings of fathers on their sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren”]. Although in this case whether you blamed it on a gene or a Lamarckian mechanism the result is the same. If you believe you’re a victim, you will always have a mechanism to show it.

Personally I’m an optimist on this and I believe in people’s ability to change. Therefore I’m happy to hear that there is experimental evidence that I can also get a measure of immortality in this, to pass on positive change even to my grandchildren.

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