PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers have found parents not only pass on traits to their offspring via their DNA, but also through the molecular "wrappers" that package the DNA.
Researchers at the Wistar Institute said their study suggests children inherit instructions that regulate their genetic activity. These instructions, recorded solely in the molecular packaging of the DNA and not the DNA itself, are referred to as being "epigenetic."
Scientists long have thought changes in epigenetic information are not passed on; any changes to the regulatory molecules acquired by the parent are reset before they can be transferred to the child. The notion that epigenetic alterations can be passed from generation to generation complicates the standard model of genetics.
The findings could support the theories of 19th century scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who suggested traits acquired by parents during their lives could be passed on to their offspring.
The discovery was made while researching the regulation of the homeotic gene complex -- the region of genes that guides the development of basic body structure. The fruit flies in the study share this region with many creatures, including mice and humans.