Intergenerational plasticity or parental effects can influence how organisms manage the consequences of environmental change.

Parental environments may alter the phenotype of the offspring and the future generations after it. Several studies have established that the behavior of parent organisms and/ or the environment they were exposed, may influence genes passed on to the next generation. These studies conducted in worms, mice, and humans provide hints that other acquired traits can be passed down.

study also highlights that epigenetic and genetic differences caused by human sex chromosomes can determine sex biases in human diseases, regardless of sex hormones.

However, data about the possibility that the sex of the parents and the offerings play an important role in operating the evolution of intergenerational plasticity in both adaptive and non‐adaptive ways remain underexplored.

In this study, researchers hypothesized that daughters are more responsive to cues from their mother, whereas sons are more responsive to cues from their father.

Read the original publication of this study here: [Sex‐specific plasticity across generations I: Maternal and paternal effects on sons and daughters]

This fish research aimed to discover the potential for sex‐specific parental effects in a freshwater population of three‐spined sticklebacks by independently and jointly manipulating maternal and paternal experiences and separately evaluating their phenotypic effects in sons versus daughters.

three‐spined sticklebacks swimming in the water | Fish Parents Exposed to Stressful Experience Pass Down Behaviors via Sex-specific Intergenerational Plasticity.

Sex‐specific plasticity across generations I: Maternal and paternal effects on sons and daughters

In the first part of the series of papers conducted on sex-specific plasticity, researchers evaluated the phenotypic effect and sex-specific parental effect in sons and daughters of three-spined sticklebacks exposed to controlled experiences.

Three-spined sticklebacks parents were exposed to visual cues of predation risk. The offspring were then measured for brain gene expression and antipredator traits.

The results showed that sons of predator‐exposed fathers were more risk‐prone, whereas predator‐exposed mothers produced more anxious offspring, regardless of the sex.

It is worth taking note that the parental effects on offspring are non-additive, which means offspring with a predator‐exposed father, but not two predator‐exposed parents had lower survival against live predators.

Findings also suggest there were strong sex‐specific effects on brain gene expression. Comparatively, exposing mothers versus fathers to predation risk activated different transcriptional profiles in their offspring, which show substantial differences in brain gene expression in sons and daughters.

Altogether, the results of this study support the idea that sex may influence patterns of intergenerational plasticity and raise new questions about the interface between intergenerational plasticity and sex‐specific selective pressures, sexual conflict, and sexual selection.


You can read the original publication of this study here: [Sex‐specific plasticity across generations I: Maternal and paternal effects on sons and daughters]

  1. Behavior of parent organisms may influence genes passed on to next generation
  2. Genetics and Epigenetics of Sex Bias: Insights from Human Cancer and Autoimmunity