Neuroscientist Dr Bianca Jones Marlin says that when we inherit trauma and life stressors from our ancestors, it’s actually biology telling us to survive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a mass traumatic event, with lingering mental health effects that could last even longer than the rest of our lives. Dr. Bianca Jones Marlin of Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute says that when traumatized, descendants of survivors can be scarred 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, Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University
Listen: how our own current trauma can endure in our descendants.
Dr Bianca Jones Marlin is an Associate Professor and Principal Investigator of the Marlin Lab at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute. She says the traumatic experiences of our ancestors can be passed down through epigenetic markers, influencing our own health. “One of the most studied cases of trauma remembered in the epigenome…is the Hunger Winter in the Netherlands…After World War II, the population was starved drastically for nine months…scientists found that the children and grandchildren of men who were starving [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 that we discuss are really stressors…when it comes to [the] traumatic aspect is really a personal perception. It’s because we have groups that we consider resilient…it’s important to consider the specificity of the trauma.
Marlin says there are complex realizations in racial and class disparities that science has never seen before. “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. She says seeing these epigenetic markers of trauma manifest in our children, it’s 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 alters epigenetic factors.”