Family: providing more than food and a roof over your head

Have you ever wondered how far the family tree can influence medical conditions, such as anxiety? My research looks at how parents affect anxiety behavior of their children.

Looking to the family tree for answers about our own characteristics. Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

What do I do?

When thinking of ideas for my final blog post, I was searching New Scientist and other science websites and came across an article. It said that if a woman is obese, her children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren have a greater risk for developing obesity and addiction.

Because of my own research, this topic was of interest to me. I have looked at how exercising fathers affect fear behavior (similar correlate to anxiety) in juvenile mouse offspring.

In a paper my colleagues published, they found that male offspring with exercising fathers had reduced fear behavior when compared with females and offspring that didn’t have exercising fathers. Now, we are planning a similar study to look at transgenerational effects.


I was curious if this reduced fear behavior (anxiety) would be present in subsequent generations. My research (along with colleagues) so far has been looking at intergenerational inheritance.

By intergenerational, I mean one generation of offspring descended from these exercising fathers. Any subsequent generations after that would qualify as transgenerational. From the first generation of male offspring with exercising/non-exercising fathers, they will mate with females to breed another generation.

Connected through many generations. Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Exercise–what should men do?

I have already found some interesting results that I didn’t expect. I found that the exercising fathers were producing markedly less sperm than the control (non-exercising) fathers. This raises an interesting question about whether exercise is beneficial or detrimental to fertility.

Study results in human subjects are usually mixed—one study found that high intensity exercise had deteriorated the quality of semen and another study found that men who exercised had better semen quality than those who were sedentary.

How beneficial is high intensity exercise to men? Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash


Based on the results of studies, it seems that exercise is beneficial to men but only in smaller, more moderate doses. In society, exercise is stressed as important to maintaining our health but doing a dosage study might better clarify whether it is beneficial or detrimental to sperm fertility.

My supervisor has been interested in doing a dosage study with mice; looking at how long the fathers are exposed to running wheels and whether that has an effect on their semen quality/sperm quantity. He has talked about taking the running wheels out of the cages for a few days or letting them be exposed to the wheels for less time. In my results, the mice have been exposed to wheels for 6 weeks.

The importance of inheritance

I find it interesting to look at the relationships between parents, grandparents and children and how their behavior might be altered because of it. I think it has much relevance for our understanding of medicine.

This research doesn’t just apply to exercise and anxiety. Other studies have looked into the exercise as it relates to causes of trauma, depression, and obesity. I look forward to finding out more about transgenerational effects in the course of my study.


For more reading on transgenerational inheritance:


Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: myths and mechanisms


Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance