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Ancestral legacy effects
Environmental change can critically affect the lifestyle, reproductive success, and life span of adult animals and their for generations. Klosin et al. showed that in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, exposure to high temperatures led to expression of endogenously repressed copies of genes—sometimes called “junk” DNA. This effect persisted for >10 generations of worms. The changes in chromatin occurred in the early embryo before the onset of transcription and were inherited through eggs and sperm.
Science, this issue p. 320
The environment experienced by an animal can sometimes influence gene expression for one or a few subsequent generations. Here, we report the observation that a temperature-induced change in expression from a Caenorhabditis elegans heterochromatic gene array can endure for at least 14 generations. Inheritance is primarily in cis with the locus, occurs through both oocytes and sperm, and is associated with altered trimethylation of histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9me3) before the onset of zygotic transcription. Expression profiling reveals that temperature-induced expression from endogenous repressed repeats can also be inherited for multiple generations. Long-lasting epigenetic memory of environmental change is therefore possible in this animal.