Our current problems can even be passed down to future generations!
Due to mass extinctions, wars, and economic crises, many generations have left the earth without fulfilling their potential. The descendants of those generations have never seen the past as just a memory, but rather their whole lives have been shaped by it. This period of heightened tension affected every layer of society and every individual. For the first time in the 21st century, the whole world was experiencing fire without seeing flames and war without seeing weapons. However, fires started and wars began. What is happening today will undoubtedly affect tomorrow. So, what does genetic science say about this? According to research, changes in our environment cause chemical tags to be added or removed from our DNA. These tags open and close relevant genes, allowing us to adapt more quickly to changing conditions. However, if the effect continues, the changing genes become permanent, and are passed on to our children and even grandchildren. These genes generally determine physiological characteristics such as skin and eye color. However, the only tool for transmitting the characteristics we possess to future generations is not genetic codes, but the transfer of DNA mentioned here. The science of studying characteristics passed down from generation to generation outside of genetics is called “epigenetics.” According to Baha Patlar from the Evolution Tree, epigenetic science explores how the effects of our environment are transmitted to future generations, even to our grandchildren several generations later. In short, our DNA may not change, but our “epigenomes” can. Ali Jawaid, a neuroscientist at the University of Zurich, is one of the scientists who has observed this phenomenon up close. He had the opportunity to closely examine orphaned children who had lost their parents in wars and were living in Islamabad and Multan, Pakistan. He wondered how emotional trauma and stress disorders resulting from being separated from their parents affected their biological state. The findings showed that these children were affected for so long that they could pass on the changes they experienced to their own children, even if they were in good conditions. In other words, even the grandchildren of a child who lost their family in a war can experience the same effects of the trauma, no matter how good the conditions are. A similar situation was observed in the grandchildren of those who survived the genocide in World War II: they could carry the traces of the past that they had never experienced biologically and health-wise. Rachel Yehuda, from the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, conducted research on the surviving grandchildren of 40 people who survived the Holocaust in World War II. According to her findings, the catalyst that plays a role in stress hormone secretion has a slight effect on the grandchildren of those who survived the war. Think about the pain your elders experienced that you carry biologically today… On the other hand, according to Yehuda, we are in an early stage to say whether there is an inherited effect of trauma. In fact, Yehuda emphasizes that the media has exaggerated and distorted the findings. Therefore, she points out that misleading news can affect future generations as much as epigenetic effects. Of course, it is difficult to come to a definitive conclusion on this issue, as scientists always have to face destructive examples to investigate the epigenetic effects of experiences. This confrontation is like walking on fire for scientists. However, it needs to be researched and understood. Michael Skinner, a biologist at Washington State University, says in the ScienceMag that epigenetic changes resulting from traumatic effects can be transmitted to multiple generations in animals. If traumatic experiences trigger similar epigenetic effects in humans, this means that social legacies of health problems, especially mental health, will be passed on to future generations. Previous research and examples already show this. There is a great effort in the scientific community to shed light on how the epigenetic effects of trauma are transmitted to future generations. Whether we like it or not, the changes that we are experiencing today due to our difficulties may affect our grandchildren, who will perhaps lead a more standard and normal life tomorrow. If we can solve how epigenetic changes affect our biology and how they are transmitted to future generations, treatments will become easier. We hope that when that day comes, everyone will be able to access treatment more easily.