In December 2013, a research team from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, published startling findings that added significant weight to the inherited memory theory. Brian G. Dias and Kerry J. Ressler, who penned the team’s paper on the matter, “Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations,” revealed something extraordinary. They undertook a study that was focused on exposing a group of mice to the odor of cherry blossom and taught the mice to associate the smell with looming, imminent danger. They then took a careful and close look at what changes – if any – this was having on the sperm of the male mice. It turns out there was a very important change: the mice DNA that was responsible for causing the sensitivity to the cherry blossom to occur, increased its activity within the sperm.
The next effect was on the brains of the mice, which led the team to say: “The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.” This was proven when not just the direct offspring of the mice in question – but their “grandchildren” too – had all inherited this fear of cherry blossom, through the DNA of the parent mice. Dr. Dias said to the BBC: “This might be one mechanism that descendants show imprints of their ancestor. There is absolutely no doubt that what happens to the sperm and egg will affect subsequent generations.”
University College London’s Professor Marcus Pembrey said of the findings of the Emory University School of Medicine that the conclusions had proven to be “highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders,” and demonstrated that the conclusions offered “compelling evidence” that, in one form or another, memory could be passed on throughout the generations. In this case, what we have is an inherited memory of a fear of one particular thing; in this case the smell of cherry blossom. But, there is an even more amazing aspect to this controversy. Moving on…
A number of people who have undergone organ transplant procedures have found themselves developing cravings for the kinds of foods that their donors were particularly fond of, during the course of their lives. There are more than seventy such examples on record; but, for our purposes, two will suffice. In 2009, a twenty-four-year-old Australian man from the city of Adelaide, named David Waters, received the heart of an eighteen-year-old donor of New South Wales, Kaden Delaney, who had been declared brain dead after a violent car accident. In the wake of the successful transplant of Delaney’s heart, Waters began to develop a sudden, out of the blue, craving for Burger Rings, which are Australia-based hamburger-flavored chips.
Two years later, in 2011, the family of Delaney contacted Waters, just to see how he was doing and determine if their son’s heart had served a good, positive purpose, despite his tragic death. Waters was doing just fine. He got to know the Delaney family, and they exchanged emails, during which, it was revealed, Kaden Delaney had a particular taste for Burger Rings, eating at least one packet of them every single day – the very snack that Waters craved after his transplant.
Equally amazing, but filled with tragedy, is the story of an American man, Sonny Graham. In 1995, he received the heart of a victim of suicide, Terry Cottle, who had put a bullet in his brain. In the aftermath of the surgery, Graham met with Cottle’s wife, Cheryl. It wasn’t long before the pair fell in love and were soon married. It was a marriage not destined to last, however: in 2007, Sonny Graham shot himself in the throat. He did not survive. What we have in the cases cited above may be examples of fear, food-based cravings and suicidal tendencies being passed on from one living being to another – whether in mice or people, and whether by changes in sperm and DNA reactions, or by organ transplant.