Australian scientists have proved telegony in a species of flies, the results of their research published in Ecology Letters. However, Vladislav Chernov, PhD in Biology, is sure a previous sexual partner does not transmit any of his acquired features to the female's offspring sired by another male.
The idea that the physical traits of previous sexual partners could be passed on to future children was hypothesised by Aristotle and formed part of the reason that kings were banned from marrying divorcees. But the birth of genetics dismissed 'telegony' as a superstition which had no basis in science.
Now, however, an intriguing new study suggests children may resemble a mother's previous sexual partner after all.
Scientists at the University of New South Wales led by Dr. Angela Crean, discovered that, for fruit flies at least, the size of the young was determined by the size of the first male the mother mated with, rather than the second male that sired the offspring. It is the first time that telegony has been proved in the animal kingdom.
The researchers propose that the effect is due to molecules in the semen of the first mate being absorbed by the female's immature eggs where they influence future offspring.
Telegony (from the Greek words τῆλε (tèle) meaning 'far' and γονος (gonos) meaning 'offspring') is a theory in heredity, holding that offspring can inherit the characteristics of a previous mate of the female parent; thus the child of a widowed or remarried woman might partake of traits of a previous husband. Previous experiments on several species failed to provide any evidence that offspring would inherit any character from their mother's previous mates
However, Vladislav Chernov, PhD in Biology, supposes that Australian scientists got ahead of themselves to announce that they managed to explain one of the ancient secrets.
- I believe that the idea of the Australian experts that the first sexual partner influences the characteristics of future offspring has nothing to do with genetics as the scientific article contains very cautious conclusions on telegony, explained the professor. The article says that telegony of Neriidae flies is linked with their specific morphology and reproduction strategy, so we can suppose that the molecules in the seminal fluid of the first mate are absorbed by the female's immature eggs and then influence her future offspring. But it is all about morphology rather than genetics.
Vladislav Chernov reminded that genetics experts reject telegony.
- Telegony as a fact has no evidence to prove it and let it exist. Even if we consider it from the point of view of cytoplasmic inheritance, that is inheritance of material structures and functional characteristics of organisms defined and transmitted by factors in cytoplasm, eggs mature only by mother's genes. Thus, external influence is out of question