SSN Seminar: 'Can Memories be Inherited?' with Prof Oded Rechavi

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'Healthy Futures' themed seminar series hosted by the Deakin Science and Society Network

About this Event

Please join us for seminar #5 in the 'Healthy Futures' seminar series hosted by the Deakin Science and Society Network (SSN). You can join the conversation on Twitter by following us at @SSNDeakin and using the hashtags #SSNseminar #HealthyFutures.


Can memories be inherited?


In C.elegans nematodes, small RNAs enable transmission of epigenetic responses across multiple generations, independently of changes to the DNA sequence. Different environmental challenges, including exposure to viruses, starvation, and heat stress generate heritable small RNA responses, that in certain cases could be adaptive. Recently we have shown that neuronal activity can also produce small RNA-mediate heritable responses, and that the decisions that the progeny makes, depends on whether their ancestors experienced stress or not. The precise duration of small RNA-mediated transgenerational responses is governed by a number of feedback interactions, that together establish a “timer” mechanism, and segregation of the epigenetic response between the descendant obeys a few simple inheritance rules. In the talk I will present new insights into the rules that dictate which small RNA responses would become heritable, and which wouldn’t. Our results indicate that specific processing of endo-siRNAs in the parents leads to marked differences in the physiology of the progeny. I will discuss the underlying mechanisms, and the potential of small RNA inheritance to affect the worm’s fate and perhaps even evolution, and the relevance of studies in worms to mammals, and in particular humans.

About the speaker:

Oded Rechavi is a Full Professor in the Life Sciences Faculty at Tel Aviv University. His mission is “to challenge fundamental long-held scientific dogmas”. Using C. elegans nematodes he provided direct evidence that an acquired trait can be inherited, worked to elucidate the mechanism and rules of small RNA-mediated transgenerational inheritance, discovered that the nematodes’ brains can control the behavior of their progeny, and identified a simple neuronal circuit-level mechanism that explains economic irrationality. Aside from his work on nematodes, Oded utilized genome sequencing of ancient DNA to “piece together” fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and demonstrated that Toxoplasma parasites can be genetically engineered to deliver drugs to the nervous system. He is an ERC Fellow, and was awarded many prestigious prizes, including the Polymath prize (Schmidt Futures), the Kadar award, the Blavatnik award, the Krill Wolf award, the Alon, and F.I.R.S.T (Bikura) Prizes, and the Gross Lipper Fellowship. Prof. Rechavi was selected as one of the “10 Most Creative People in Israel Under 40”, and one of the “40 Most Promising People in Israel Under 40”.

About the respondents:

Anthony Hannan received his undergraduate training and PhD from the University of Sydney. He was then awarded a Nuffield Medical Fellowship at the University of Oxford, where he subsequently held other research positions before returning to Australia to establish a laboratory at the Florey Institute. He has received various fellowships and awards and is currently an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow and Theme Leader at the Florey Institute, University of Melbourne. His laboratory at the Florey explores how genes and the environment combine via experience-dependent plasticity in the healthy and diseased brain. Their research includes models of brain disorders which involve cognitive and affective dysfunction, investigated at behavioural, cellular and molecular levels so as to identify pathogenic mechanisms and novel therapeutic targets. This has recently incorporated gut microbiome studies and the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Furthermore, in recent years his group has been exploring transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of acquired traits in response to paternal environmental exposures and experience.

Elsher Lawson-Boyd is a PhD candidate from Deakin University, Melbourne. Using feminist theory in tandem with qualitative interviews, Elsher’s doctoral research engages with the emerging field of neuroepigenetics. Paying attention to narratives of inherited trauma along with Conrad Waddington’s idea of “epigenetic landscapes”, this study explores neurological plasticity through the lens of "absorption", which conceptually holds together the moment of flexibility and stability. As a strong believer in collaborative work across the biological and social sciences, Elsher uses interviews as a means to engage with neuroepigenetic researchers in countries like Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Singapore and North America.

Watch the seminar:

Seminar will be available to stream on YouTube live. Access using the live link:

Date/time: Tuesday April 20, 3pm - 4:30pm (Australian Eastern Daylight Time, GMT+11)

Q&A with the speaker to follow. To send questions/participate in the chat, you'll need to sign-in using a YouTube account.

The seminar will be recorded and available to watch on the SSN YouTube channel after the Livestream.

If you have any questions, please send to

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