“When we think of inheritance, we think of genetics, we think of epigenetics. We don’t really think about inheriting environmental factors or microbial factors.”
Deepshika Ramanan is a posdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, with her work focusing on how non-genetic traits passed from mother to child can influence a person’s immune system.
In June, Ramanan published a study showing that the levels of immunoglobulin A — a protein that binds to microbes in the gut — found in a mouse can reliably be traced back to its mother (and its grandmother, and great-grandmother) through the milk a mother feeds her pups. These immunoglobulin proteins are vital in an animal’s immune system, and can influence another immune cell — a regulatory T cell. Some subtypes of these regulatory T cells are correlated with better responses to certain viruses and bacteria — and analogs of them are found in humans, too.