Wellcome Sanger Institute
Sanger Institute Science Collaboration

Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance

The idea that organisms can memorize experiences or exposures not only within a life time but pass information on to their offspring through the germline is currently being revived. Transgenerational effects likely have wide-ranging implications for human health, biological adaptation and evolution, however their mechanism and biology remain poorly understood.

The Miska lab has previously studied transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans where germline-specific small non-coding RNAs are essential for the stable transmission of gene silencing over many generations.

We recently found that mouse sperm RNA can also carry information about early traumatic experiences from one generation to the next. To this end we used a mouse model of maternal separation combined with unpredicted maternal stress. In this model we demonstrated that early life environment is altering sperm RNA contents thereby transferring information about life history to the progeny.

Our current research explores such phenomena in other models and tries to understand how changes in sperm RNA are brought about and where and how these changes are functional.