Recent research at Tel Aviv University has questioned one of the fundamental principles of biology: the Weismann barrier or the impossibility of inheriting knowledge. This study is indeed the first step towards future research on the heritability of knowledge. To sum up, it actually opens the door to the possibility of being able to inherit the knowledge of past generations.
The team of Professor Oded Rechavi, from the Department of Neurobiology of the Faculty of Life Sciences, has discovered, with the Sagol School of Neuroscience, an RNA-based mechanism that makes the response of neurons to the environment heritable. Information acquired which would then affect the behavior of the offspring.
The experiment, presented on June 6, 2019, focused on a species of worms, nematodes ( Caenorhabditis elegans ). The team showed how cells of the nervous system can pass information on to the next generations of worms.
The germline and the controversy over knowledge inheritance
It appears that the regulatory mechanism of RNA allows the nervous system of living things to communicate with the germ line. This lineage would affect the behavior of future generations. This is the great novelty of this study.
So that, if this research is correct, it would assume that the nervous system can control the offspring. The discovery collides head-on with the Weismann barrier, one of the most accepted principles of biology. It must still be recognized that it has been very controversial and widely discussed for several decades.
The Weismann barrier: is it possible to inherit knowledge?
The Weismann barrier is the theory that ensures that acquired characteristics are characteristics of somatic cells. In no case are they passed on to future generations. According to Weismann, it is this barrier that differentiates the body’s somatic cells and germ cells (eggs and sperm).
Freibour A. Weismann, German biologist and geneticist, presented his findings on hereditary information, hereditary genetic material, in the book published in 1892.
According to his theories, changes in genetic material produced by environmental influences would only affect heredity if they occur in genetic material, but not if they occur in the soma (body) of the cell.
Many voices in academia have since argued that the somato-germinal barrier does not work that way. However, this theory has been taken for years as the basis for rejecting the inheritance of acquired traits.
The recently presented study broke the Weismann barrier. This study used the most advanced systems. A form of genetic variant, or mutant allele, has been created via the latest CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool. A genetically encoded calcium indicator (ICGC) and calcium image analysis, GCaMp2, were also used.
To this end, the worms were designed to produce RDE-4-dependent endo-siRNA only in neurons. The aim was to understand the hereditary effects of neuronal pn RNA (small nuclear RNA). Genetically encoded calcium analyzes made it possible to observe neuronal activity through optogenetic systems.
Inheriting knowledge: how does it work?
The research concluded that the rRNA of neurons regulates germline genes and controls the behavior of future generations. This mechanism would control the expression of germinal genes for several generations.
More specifically, it is neuronal RDE-4 that controls chemotaxis for at least three generations. It would do this via ArgonauteHRDE-1 which is limited to the germ line.
An open door to research
This discovery about the mechanism of RNA that allows cells of the nervous system to communicate with germ cells in order to allow the inheritance of the information acquired to future generations could change the way we understand the process.
Further research in the future may confirm how this mechanism works in other animals and humans. There is therefore no doubt that the implications of this study for our knowledge of genetics, evolution, epigenetics and the heritability of intelligence are enormous.