Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Columbia University.
Dr. Bianca Jones Marlin’s research investigates the relationship between the innate and the learned. Dr. Marlin has examined how an organism unlocks an innate behavior at the appropriate time (maternal instinct), and how learned information is passed to subsequent generations via paternal transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Recent observations suggest the heretical view that adaptive changes in response to physical or emotional trauma in parents can be transmitted to their offspring by epigenetic modifications of DNA. These changes in gene expression, and consequent behaviors, may permit the offspring to exhibit an inherited adaptation to the environment of their parents. However, the mechanism of transgenerational inheritance of environmental information remains a complex mystery. Novel experiments performed by Dr. Marlin and her colleagues have demonstrated that odors in the environment of a mouse associated with aversive consequences result in compensatory alterations in the olfactory system of their offspring. Dr. Marlin’s work combines neural imaging, behavior, and molecular genetics to understand the transfer of information inherent in neurons of the parent, through the gamete, to neurons of their offspring. Thus, Dr. Marlin found that a learned behavior in the parent can essentially become an innate behavior in the offspring. Achieving an understanding of how to intervene when such an adaptation no longer benefits the offspring would be of important translational value. Dr. Marlin’s goal is to uncover the process in which a learned adaptation can be transmitted across generations, providing innovative insight into elusive mechanisms of evolution. Dr. Marlin’s work in elucidating the mechanisms through which learning and emotion in one generation are transmitted, not culturally but rather biologically through DNA, will have profound implications in societal health and mental well-being.