'Assassin’s Creed' Is A Sci-Fi Twist On Epigenetic Memory


The full trailer for Assassin’s Creed dropped Saturday, featuring parkour, time travel, and kickass stunts by Michael Fassbender’s Callum Lynch, a descendant of a secret group of assassins.

Things go awry when Lynch is kidnapped by the Templar organization, who are trying to tap into the memories of his ancestors to find a powerful artifact called the Apple of Eden. They tap into these memories by strapping Lynch to a machine called the Animus, a “revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories.”

“What you’re about to see, hear, and feel are the memories of your ancestor that’s been dead for 500 years,” Sofia (played by Marion Cotillard), purrs.

Lynch is strapped into the Animus.


It’s weirdly not too far from the truth. The concept of epigenetic information is rooted in genetics, where information is encrypted in DNA methylation, histone modifications, and small RNA changes. These are potentially passed on to subsequent generations.

“Epigenetic information uses patterns of inheritance, which are not determined by DNA sequence alone and may result in an epigenetic memory, which like genetic memory can be stably inherited and passed onto progeny through meiosis, although epigenetic inheritance mainly defines Mendelian laws,” University of Lethbridge biologists wrote in Frontiers in Genetics.

In 2014 this concept was tested out with mice that were trained to avoid a smell similar to cherry blossom. When the grandchildren of these mice were studied — mice that had never previously encountered that smell — they intriguingly experienced phobia and anxiety when they encountered the scent. The very structure and function of their nervous system had changed all because of the previous experiences of their ancestors.

The long line of the Lynch family.


The transmission of stress effects via epigenetic memory has only been clinically studied in humans once so it’s difficult to make conclusions, but it’s astounding. In a paper published in September, researchers from New York’s Mount Sinai hospital describe studying 32 Jewish men and women who had either been in hiding during World War II, experienced or witnessed torture, or were interned in a Nazi concentration camp. Then the researchers analyzed the genes of the subject’s children, who had not experienced these tragedies, and compared them to Jewish families who lived outside of Europe during the war.

They found that the DNA process of methylation was higher among parents exposed to the Holocaust and in their children, in comparison to the control subjects. Epigenetic inheritance, they believe, predisposed the children to stress disorders and is the first demonstration that “severe psychophysiological trauma can have intergenerational effects.”

Since Lynch is descended from a line of blood splattering assassins, it’s likely that in the real world his genes would carry on the memory of this trauma. He just couldn’t actually travel to these memories.

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