WADERN, Germany, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- New research shows wild guinea pigs are able to adapt to shifting temperatures by altering gene expression, and that new epigenetic information is passed along to offspring.
It's the first time the inheritability of epigenetic changes has been demonstrated across generations in a wild animal.
Lab tests revealed an uptick in methylation of the DNA -- a biochemical sign of genetic augmentation -- after wild guinea pigs were exposed to temperature changes. Similarly located instances of methylation of the DNA were found among sons sired by fathers exposed to temperature changes.
And these changes were measured among genetic coding linked with proteins important in protecting agianst heat damage.
"We believe that the transfer of epigenetic information from father to sons prepares the latter for changes in environmental conditions such as a rise in temperature," Alexandra Weyrich, researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, said in a press release.
"This is particularly important with regards to a possible adaptive response to climate change," Weyrich continued. "Epigenetic mechanisms could therefore be crucial for the fitness and survival of the offspring."
The new findings were detailed in a new paper, published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology.
While most research into genetic inheritance focuses on female specimens, researchers say males are more likely to make rapid epigenetic changes in response to shifting environmental factors -- changes apparently robust enough to be passed on to their sons.