Genetic “memories” of pandemic trauma could be passed on to future generations

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the COVIDThe -19 pandemic was a mass traumatic event, with lingering mental health effects that could stick with us even longer than the rest of our lives. Dr Bianca Jones Marlin of the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University says that with cases of trauma, the descendants of survivors can be marked by the experiences of their ancestors.

It is very important to recognize that science is driven by scientists… It is so important to include other aspects, experiences and stories in science. As a first generation black woman, I have a keen awareness of how class and caste can play a role in epigenetics. -Dr. Bianca Jones Marlin, The Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University


Listen: How can our own current trauma be perpetuated in our descendants.


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Dr Bianca Jones Marlin is Associate Professor and Principal Investigator of the Marlin Lab at the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University. She says the traumatic experiences of our ancestors can be transmitted through epigenetic markers, influencing our own health. “One of the best-studied examples of trauma remembered in the epigenome… is the hungry winter in the Netherlands… after the world war II the population is drastically starved for nine months … scientists have discovered that the children and grandchildren of starving men [that winter] their descendants suffered from metabolic problems… the children and grandchildren were ready to live in a country where there was no food.

Marlin says it’s not just biology that drives this legacy – it’s also how society treats certain populations. “A lot of the traumas we discuss are really stressors… when it comes to [the] traumatic aspect is really a personal perception. This is because we have groups that we consider to be resilient… it is important to take into account the specificity of the trauma.

Marlin says there are complex achievements in racial and class disparities that science has never seen before. “It’s very important to recognize that science is driven by scientists… It’s so important to include other aspects, experiences and stories in science. As a first generation black woman, I have a keen awareness of how class and caste can play a role in epigenetics. She says seeing these epigenetic markers of trauma manifest in our children is about mitigating what we can. “I may not be able to prevent my children from coming from enslaved people… but the internal environment of our home… can potentially be the environment that modifies the epigenetic factors.”

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