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Genetic memory is a scientific concept used in biology to describe biological responses to environmental stimuli within a single organism. Biologists have attributed many behaviors to genetic memory, such as immunity to diseases or environmental conditions, or instinctive behaviors in animals.
Psychologists such as Carl Jung have suggested using the concept of genetic memory to explain language and other shared environmental factors between generations—that is, that any meme such as religious or racist tendencies is passed on biologically from parents to children, rather than a learned behavior picked up by offspring after birth.
Others have suggested that actual memories from an ancestor's experiences are stored in their DNA and passed onto their descendants as some sort of "hidden code". It is suggested that this hidden code is stored in the genetic "waste" that makes up a large portion of human DNA, and with the right type of magical thinking or brain scanning technology[note 1] we can tap into those memories as a form of past life regression therapy. If this were possible, given the size and complexity of the tree of life, one might wonder just how many different ancestors' memories would we be able to process without suffering from some sort of personality disorder—or, since any given offspring would only contain the memories of their progenitors (both of them) up until the point they were conceived, how much those memories would actually be useful.
Where the woomeisters get the concept of genetic memory wrong is in the misunderstanding that it only happens in organisms and is not passed down from one generation to the next—that is, the incidents and accidents of one person's life do not get stored in the DNA of gamete cells to be passed on to the progeny.<re group=notef>Unless those genes are changed as a result of mutation—however, the resulting change is a symptom of that incident, not an explanation of the incident.</ref>[note 2] Immunology is a perfect example: one person's antibodies will remember what diseases it has received or been inoculated against. If genetic memory worked the way the woomeisters wanted it to, then children would never (or rarely) succumb to chicken pox or need vaccinations.
The concept of genetic memory has been used quite a bit in science fiction works, such as Ridley Scott's Alien series, Frank Herbert's Dune series and the Assassin's Creed video game series. The reverse idea, that modifying memories can alter a person's genes and/or physiology, is seen in works such as the movies Dark City and The Matrix.
The concept of genetic memory often features in fiction that assumes that cloning produces an identical copy of the source, down to memories and personality (instead of a twin with an age difference in years instead of minutes). This would require genetic memory or otherwise transferring a mind through some sort of brain mapping device, as seen in the movie The Sixth Day. The misconception that creating a clone duplicates the individual's experiences is a strawman argument against cloning among the uneducated ("If there are two 'me's' running around, how can I prove I'm the 'real me'?"), which may suggest that genetic memory as a valid concept is one that is accepted among those individuals.
A recent study has suggested that a form of genetic memory might actually be possible, as scientists were able to elicit a physiological response to a stimulus in lab rats who had no prior negative exposure to the stimulus, but their predecessors had. This, however, appears to be an alteration in the expression of genes rather than an actual change in genetic code. Further experimentation will be required to confirm this, as no biological explanation was determined through the study.