Men and women are obviously born physically different, but are our brains hard-wired to display masculine and feminine traits? Wednesday’s SciCafé event, “How the Brain Shows its Feminine Side,” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, explored this question.
“There are many misconceptions about child development,” said Pat Levitt, Provost Professor at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California at the latest Neuroscience and Society lecture convened by the Dana Foundation and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Some of the most prevalent myths include that humans are born with a blank slate; children are sponges; 80% of development takes place by 3 years old; and that a child’s outcome is predominantly self-determined. Moreover, many consider the mixture of fate, free will, parenting, genes, and environment a mysterious “black box” that ultimately decides a child’s success.
In the latest Report on Progress, “Epigenetic Inheritance: Fact or Fiction?” Dana Alliance member Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., discusses the relatively new field of epigenetics, and how nature and nurture play a role with genetics.
Recently, there has been increased attention to the possibility of a very different contribution of epigenetics: namely, that environmentally-induced epigenetic changes, in addition to occurring within the brain, might also occur in germ cells—sperm or egg—which are then passed onto the offspring and modify their responses to those same environmental exposures. This reflects a distinct definition of the term epigenetics, one that would involve the heritable transmission of life’s experiences to offspring without a change in DNA sequence.
Dr. Nestler says that there are “a growing number of provocative demonstrations that behavioral exposures can be passed onto offspring.”
You can find all the Reports on Progress here: http://dana.org/news/reportonprogress/
– Blayne Jeffries