Parental phenotype may affect offspring phenotype

By Shannon Bohman ’19

Arabidopsis thaliana is a small flowering plant found in Eurasia.

An individual’s genotype, composed of the maternal and paternal’s genomes, is expressed physically as a phenotype.  A team of Netherland geneticists found that the phenotype of an offspring depends partly on the environmental factors experienced by his or her parents. One species in which such transgenerational effects are evident is Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant species whose small genome and short generation with several offspring make it an ideal model organism. The scientists studied the transgenerational effects when parental and grandparental generations were subjected to salty environments, herbivores, and heat treatment. In the salty environment case study, the offspring of the ancestral generations developed bigger leaves and rosette diameters. When exposed to herbivores in the first generation, the following two generations had an increased resistance to them. Similar to the previous two treatments, the heat treatment induced higher reproduction rates than offspring grown in unheated environments.

These findings suggest that the phenotype of a parent organism can be essentially “inherited” and passed on to multiple generations of offspring. However, these transgenerational effects are all mitigated by multigenerational exposure to the stress.



  1. P. Groot et al., Effects of multi-generational stress exposure and offspring environment on the expression and persistence of transgenerational effects in arabidopsis thaliana. PLOS Science Journal (2016).
  2. Image acquired from:

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