The Science of Assassin’s Creed: Genetic Memory Revisited

In a recent interview with The Guardian Michael Fassbender talked about the credibility of genetic memory, saying that it ultimately made, “a lot of scientific sense.” While being able to re-live our ancestor’s experiences due to generational DNA-transmission sounds like a long shot, there may be at least a modicum of truth behind the science of the Animus.

In December of 2016, Ancestry.com published an article entitled, “Assassin’s Creed and Genetic Memory: Science-Based or Total Fiction?” It noted that by the 1970’s geneticists had determined that certain life events (a sudden change in diet, exposure to a chemical) could alter genes in such a way that they were passed down through generations. Scientists then began to perform studies on the effects of stress and neglect on subsequent generations. What they found was astonishing: without any concrete changes to the DNA itself, stressful life events were indeed carried down to subsequent generations,

“Rats raised by bad mothers grew up to be nervous wrecks, as a result of methyl groups attaching to their genes regulating the production of glucocorticoid receptors, which regulate sensitivity to stress hormones.”

Soon studies on humans began, and the results continued to shock: how you were raised , socioeconomic status , and even the diet your grandparents had were all recorded and passed down through DNA.

However the jury is still out as to exactly how many generations a genetic “memory” can be passed down, or how a complex memory could be imprinted. A more skeptical view is presented by a Now Loading article by Simon Rune Knudsen, who that the information stored in our DNA functions to ensure breeding and that, “DNA doesn’t actually record one’s life, so biologically we don’t possess genetic memory… It’s very unlikely that audio/visual memory is something our genes would store and transmit to new generations.”

Still, the main point of agreement between the two articles is this: the potential of genetic memory is still largely untapped- unlikely doesn’t necessarily mean impossible. Scientists today are continuing to explore this unusual phenomenon, and while mentally traveling to a distant ancestor’s memory may still be fiction, experiencing the effects of an ancestor’s life can indeed be very real.

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