Dear Expert,

I am a student from The Netherlands. I am in the 6th grade of VWO education in the Netherlands. (VWO is basically education that prepares you for scientific careers.) Together with my sister I'm constructing a school research project about biology. We chose to do it about evolution and the debate between neolamarckists and neodarwinists. Our main question in the project is : Was Lamarck really wrong with his theory about acquired treats being passed on to the ofspring? We involved new knowledge about epigenetics into our project and it is actually turning out to be really interesting. There is however one part of the project we're stuck with. For the biology research project a practical part is required, this means some sort of biological experiment. We're stuck with this. Would you perhaps know a suitable experiment for our project? We were thinking of using bacteria and then changing all sorts of external factors to see whether the bacteria would adapt or die. But this doesn't really seem to be related to the subject. The problem is that we can't do top notch experiments on our school, it has to be simple, but an experiment to prove that lamarck wasn't completely wrong is pretty hard to do without labatory gear. Could you please help us?

Kind Regards,

Victor Schmeets

I would say that Lamarck was basically wrong. Some scientists see epigenetic mechanisms as being Lamarckian, but worth remembering that a) "epigenetics" means many different things to different people (methylation, imprinting, maternal effects etc etc) and b) none of these mechanisms were really what Lamarck was envisaging. So my view is really aligned with comments from Jerry Coyne, Ryan Gregory and David Haig here: … Lamarckism

All that said, whether you choose to see it as "Lamarckian" or not, there is lots of evidence for epigenetic processes or "soft inheritance" mechanisms that involve things other than straight inheritance of DNA coding variants. For an experiement, one idea you could think about would be "maternal priming" in which - it is argued that mothers might prime offspring in some way to be better able to cope with the environmnetal conditions they are going to be born into. This idea has been circulating for a while in stress biology - basically claiming that in a high stress environment, offspring of mums that experiences a lot of stress do better (on average) than offspring of mums that experienced a benign environment.

I don't know how well the hypothesis has held up but it would be cool to look at, maybe in plants where there are fewer ethical issues associated with causing stress. I'm not going to do all your homework for you but to get you started you could, for instance, impose a "drought" stressor on some parental plants but not others, and see how well their offspring do (e.g. rate of seed germination, rate of plant growth) under stress conditions.

Last edited by Alistair Wilson (7th Sep 2015 09:11:53)