Our knowledge of heredity has recently undergone major upheaval. Heredity transmits considerably more than just genetic elements. First, the oocyte is full of maternal cytoplasmic components that subsequently are present in each new cell. Second, maternal cells can pass to the progeny, where they remain active into adult life (microchimerism). Here, we examine the notion that the transmission of characters involves at least two processes in addition to that of mendelian heredity, long considered to be the only hereditary mechanism. These processes all involve epigenetic processes, including the transmission of macromolecules, subcellular organelles, and living cells solely from the mother to her offspring, whether female or male, during pregnancy and lactation. We postulate that cytoplasmic heredity and maternal transmission of cells leading to a long-term state of microchimerism in progeny are two good examples of matrilineal, nonmendelian heredity. A mother's important contribution to the development and health of her progeny seems to possess many uncharted depths.
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Vol. 79 • No. 1