Teach ’em young. If not earlier.

New Scientist educates us about a new study suggesting that pregnant moms’ mental workouts can affect their unborn kids’ brains:

Larry Feig at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and his colleagues bred “knockout” mice that lacked a gene called Ras-GRF-2, causing them to have a memory defect….

Before they reached adolescence, the team kept these knockout mice in a cage filled with toys for two weeks. Such “enriched environments” are known to enhance learning and memory. In the knockout mice, the enriched cage was enough to compensate for their memory defect: when tested on the fear task, they associated the shock with the cage, like normal mice.

To see if this compensation could be passed on to young, the researchers waited for these enriched knockout mice to reach sexual maturity, bred them and tested their offspring on the fear task. Despite being reared by an “unenriched” knockout foster mother – to rule out the effects of spending time with a mouse they could learn directly from – the offspring associated the electric shock with the cage, just like their enriched mothers and those without the genetic defect.

The effects didn’t carry on to either the knockout mice offspring whose mothers hadn’t been in the “enriched” (memory-training) cage – dad’s learning isn’t enough – nor to a third generation of offspring whose mothers had inherited the lessons without going through the mental training. It was definitely something being passed by biological mothers to their children in fetu.

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