In this episode of the Epigenetics Podcast, we caught up with Dr. Oded Rechavi, Professor at the University of Tel Aviv, to talk about his work on the role of small RNAs in transgenerational inheritance in C. elegans.

The most prominent example of transgenerational inheritance is the Dutch famine of 1944 during World War II. Effects of this famine could be observed in the grandchildren of people that lived through this hunger winter, but the molecular mechanisms involved remain largely unknown. The guest of this podcast episode, Dr. Rechavi, has taken on the challenge to unravel parts of this puzzle by studying transgenerational epigenetics in C. elegans.

It was already known that small RNA molecules could play a role in passing on information from one generation to the next, but it was not clear what exactly was being inherited. Was it RNAs? Or chromatin modifications? Or something else?

Dr. Rechavi made several important discoveries in his journey to answer these questions. He started out by showing that RNAi provides an antiviral protection mechanism in C. elegans that can be passed on over multiple generations. He then went on to show that starvation in one generation leads to changes in the lifespan of future generations, and investigate how long this memory could last. Simple dilution of the parental RNA in future generations could not be the answer because the inherited phenotypes lasted much longer than would be possible if this were the case. This led Dr. Rechavi to the discovery that small RNAs were amplified in each generation, and the effect of a stimulus could affect multiple generations. More recently, Dr. Rechavi and his team studied the interplay of neurons and the germ line and how information can be passed on from the brain to the germ line.

In this interview, we cover how Dr. Rechavi chose C. elegans as a model organism, discuss his first major discoveries in the field of transgenerational effects of starvation, and what role epigenetic factors play in this process.

 

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