The smell of fear can be inherited, scientists prove


Study shows scents associated with terror may be passed on for two male generations

Scientists have shown for the first time that fear can be transmitted from a father to his offspring through his sperm alone in a ground-breaking study into a new kind of genetic inheritance.

Experiments on mice have demonstrated that they can be trained to associate a particular kind of smell to a fearful memory and that this fear can be passed down through subsequent generations via chemical changes to a father’s sperm cells.

The findings raise questions over whether a similar kind of inheritance occurs in humans, for example whether men exposed to the psychological trauma of a foreign war zone can pass on this fearful behavioural experience in their sperm to their children and grandchildren conceived at home.

The researchers emphasised that their carefully controlled study was carried out on laboratory mice and there are still many unanswered questions, but they do not discount the possibility that something similar may also be possible in people.

Written By: Steve Connor
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  1. This looks like Lamarkism to me. I’m not trained in biology so I can’t tell if this is bunk or not.
    I don’t trust as a source and they don’t link to the original.

  2. In reply to #2 by Kim Probable:

    Here is the paper

    Have you looked at it? I’m curious what people who know more biology than I do (which is most of the people here) have to say about this. I remember hearing about this a while ago, actually my daughter was telling me about it for some reason and I kept telling her “you must be hearing it wrong, inheritance doesn’t work that way” and then we looked up the story on the Internet and I had to admit I was wrong (I really hate when that happens) that she had heard it right and that this seems Lamarckian. I remember previous buzz about epigenetics it seemed as if people were making far more out of the results than were warranted but I forget (or never had the biology background to understand) the details.

  3. “Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.”
    Yes, epigenetics. I’d love to know more, but I’m not ready to pay 32$ for the article.

  4. In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #2 by Kim Probable:

    Here is the paper

    Have you looked at it? I’m curious what people who know more biology than I do (which is most of the people here) have to say about this.

    I haven’t, but there’s a really good summary by Virginia Hughes. It seems that there’s a change in the olfactory receptors associated with the smell the mice were trained to fear. She does note that there wasn’t a control group exposed to the smell without the fear association, though.

    If you’re interested in this, Radiolab also did an interesting episode on inheritance. (“You Are What Your Grandpa Eats” is the bit most related to this discussion.)

  5. In reply to #1 by Stuart Coyle:

    This looks like Lamarkism to me.

    Sounds kind of biblical to me. But the Heavenly Farter likes to have his punishments carried farther than a mere two generations!

    “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Deuteronomy 5:9; Numbers 14:18)

    It’s even worse if your parents weren’t married:

    “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 23:2)


  6. In reply to #5 by Kim Probable:

    there’s a really good summary by Virginia Hughes.

    Hey! Thank you very much!!! It’s very detailed! 🙂

  7. I would think if the smell of fear from foreign wars passed on to children was true we would have heard about it by now. I did read, however, that the grandchild of a child receiving chemotherapy and surviving the cancer, could still have traces of that treatment in his DNA as altered by methyl groups. I also saw a video where the guy said people have had their DNA change as a result of giving their lives to Jesus, but I don’t want to go there.

  8. ” chemical changes to a father’s sperm cells.” ( read gametes DNA )

    I’ll assume methylation and call this standard epigenetical transmission of this trait. Two generations? Interesting, but not earth shaking. This type of methylated imprinting, though not common, happens.

  9. This would NOT be a case of true Lamarckism. The “acquired character” is in effect for only two generations and then disappears. This is a case of an epigenetically inherited trait like others that have been identified in the last few years and is not the result of a permanent change in the DNA sequence itself.

  10. Pity that men are not so afraid enough that they stop making wars, and they stop going into wars. 🙂 Perhaps the smell of dead corpses are not stimulating enough. 🙂

  11. Sounds dubious. How can an emotion affect the DNA in a man’s gonads? This sounds like very shaky ground, for if a case can be made for ANY state of mind influencing the DNA in the sex cells, than we would have to open the door to any and all societal and experiential events having such influence, and I believe that theory has been discredited.

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