The possibility that our environment can influence phenotypes in our descendants has tremendous implications for basic biology and for public health and policy. Indeed, there is mounting evidence from worms to mammals, including humans, that parental environment can influence phenotypes in future generations. However, the mechanism of such transgenerational inheritance—sometimes referred to as inheritance of acquired traits, or Lamarckian Inheritance—remains elusive. The inheritance of acquired traits was previously discredited, as there was no known mechanism for the environment to alter the genetic material (DNA) transmitted from parents to offspring. With advances in the field of epigenetics, inheritance that is not based on DNA sequence, there is a resurgent interest in transgenerational inheritance. As epigenetic marks can be modulated by environmental conditions, intergenerational inheritance is potentially mediated via alterations to the gamete “epigenome”. We are interested in studying how our environmental conditions modulate specific epigenetic marks in germ cells and how those marks influence the development of offspring. We are using a unique combination of genomic, molecular, cellular, and reproductive approaches to address this question.
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