Can hardship be passed from a parent to offspring?

Answer: Epigenetics accounts for information to be passed from one generation to the next.

In the central dogma of molecular biology, it is argued that DNA is processed into RNA, which in turn codes for proteins. The process of turning DNA into RNA is transcription. The process of turning RNA into protein is translation. These proteins are the molecular components that actually elicit a change in the organism’s behavior. One older, outdated way of thinking holds that the DNA that is given to us by our parents is eventually turned into proteins which ultimately dictates our behavior.

Epigenetics is the idea concept that the process of turning DNA into protein is affected by a whole host of molecules that can interact with the process. The sequence of the DNA remains intact, but several chemical and structural modifications can cause certain stretches of DNA from being transcribed differently. Because of these modifications, the final protein may be different given the same starting DNA. Epigenetics accounts for how the same strands of DNA can yield different resulting proteins due to influence from the outside.

A 2017 study published in the journal Science demonstrated an effect of epigenetic transmission of gene information over several generations (Transgenerational transmission of environmental information in C. elegans). 

The experimenters created genetically modified C. elegans worms that express fluorescent proteins after long exposure to high temperatures (25 degrees Celcius). These worms glowed under exposure to certain wavelengths of light. Expression of these genes is associated with the environmental hardship that the worms experienced. In their model, the expression of these protein products is related directly to modifications in the body that serve to protect the organism from the high temperature environment.

After returning to room temperature (20 degrees Celcius), the expression of the fluorescent proteins persisted. This indicates that the modifications to the genetic material was persistent, even when environmental conditions returned back to normal.

The most significant finding of the research: These gene changes remain in the worms seven generations after the initial hardship. Transgenerational modifications in genes has been observed in several organisms, even in humans. The research put forth by … and others demonstrate the longest transmission of ancestral memories passed on through genetic material.