Oral Presentation Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution Conference 2016

Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: mechanisms and biology in C. elegans (#173)

Eric A Miska 1
  1. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CAMBRIDGESHIRE, United Kingdom

Since August Weismann (1834-1914) formulated the distinction between innate and acquired characteristics at the end of the 19th century, the debate relating to the inheritance of acquired traits has raised many controversies in the scientific community. Following convincing arguments against (e.g. William Bateson) this debate was then set aside by the majority of the scientific community. However, a number of epigenetic phenomena involving RNA, histone modification or DNA methylation in many organisms have renewed interest in this area. Transgenerational effects likely have wide-ranging implications for human health, biological adaptation and evolution, however their mechanism and biology remain poorly understood. We recently demonstrated that a germline nuclear small RNA/chromatin pathway can maintain epi-allelic inheritance for many generations in C. elegans. This is a first in animals. We named this phenomenon RNA-induced epigenetic silencing (RNAe). We are currently further characterizing the mechanism of RNAe. In addition, we are testing the hypothesis that RNAe provides a transgenerational memory of the environment (“Lamarckism”). We will present new data suggesting a role for RNAe in sensing nutrition and the environment. 

  1. Ashe, A., Sapetschnig, A., Weick, E.-M., Mitchell, J., Bagijn, M. P., Cording, A. C., et al. (2012). piRNAs can trigger a multigenerational epigenetic memory in the germline of C. elegans. Cell, 150(1), 88–99. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2012.06.018