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Genetic Memory

Ripley's genes are all right too: They allow her reconstituted form to retain all her old memories, as if cookie dough could remember what a gingerbread man looked like.

Genetics is a funny thing; we inherit all sorts of things from our parents while at times developing entirely different tastes, personality and abilities. In fiction land, you can discard that sentence: with the likes of Superpowerful Genetics, Lamarck Was Right and In the Blood, there's no limit to just how much a parent can influence (or more commonly, screw over) their children.

Genetic Memory takes that a step further, giving the child or clone the parents' memories. This is usually explained as the memories being hard coded into the parents' and thus the child's DNA, as if it were a VHS tape that the child could hit "play" on. There are four common variants for how this happens:

  1. Designer Babies may have these skills thanks to Lamarck Was Right with some help from an Evilutionary Biologist, seeking to make Ubermenschen or Super Soldiers.
  2. Clones and occasionally twins will outright get the original's knowledge, skills, powers, or what have you, sometimes without needing literally genetically-encoded memory (i.e. the genomic identicalness is a necessary link, but the DNA itself doesn't record the memory; a very strange form of Twin Telepathy or supernatural soul affinity). The process of getting this memories can be disorienting, so it's not unusual for the clone to experience Resurrection Sickness due to this.
  3. Enlightened characters or energy beings can sometimes unlock these memories either via channeling ancestors rather than past lives or reading their DNA like a book.
  4. Alien species or diseases might have this naturally, or use advanced genetic engineering or telepathy to do this.

Similar to "past life memories", except the soul is brand spanking new and not a reincarnation. In general serves as a Justification for Upgrade Artifact via Secret Legacy. Often a convenient Hand Wave for how young (and therefore marketably hot) characters can have specialist knowledge that would realistically take years of education. May manifest as Dreaming of Times Gone By.

At some point in history, the idea that memories were passed down in RNA molecules, which are like DNA but not, entered the public consciousness, made camp, and refused to leave. While probably impossible, the popularity of this trope can be attributed to the Rule of Cool, and how in Real Life biology, DNA acts like a form of advanced memory storage (containing massive amounts of data for production and assembly of various complex proteins).

Compare In the Blood, Generation Xerox, All Theories Are True. For non-genetic means of acquiring others' memories and skills, see Ghost Memory and Past-Life Memories.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Lyrical Nanoha
    • This was the purpose of Project F: to create a clone that retains all the thoughts of the original, letting one raise the dead in a way.
    • Also, the descendants of the ancient king Ingvalt (see ViVid) sometimes inherit his memories and martial arts knowledge. Heidi denies being an "extension of his existence" though.
    • The most extreme example of this in the franchise is Sieglinde Jeremiah of ViVid, who inherited the combined memories and battle experience all the previous Jeremiahs in history, giving her, at worst, 500 years worth of Genetic Memory.
  • Leiji Matsumoto's Captain Harlock has a few of these, passed down from a parade of identical ancestors.
  • In the manga of Hades Project Zeorymer, Masato Akitsu seems to possess memories of the Zeorymer's construction as well as how to use it. It later turns out that Masato and Miku are NOT who you they think they are, but are in fact the original creator of the Zeorymer and his lover having been reverted 14 years ago into an embryonic state in order to avoid being killed, with Masato's old memories designed to re-activate upon contact with Zeorymer.
  • Cell from Dragon Ball Z was created from the DNA of Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Freeza, and King Cold, and knows all of their fighting techniques. He even claims that Freeza's cells warn him when Goku tries to catch him with his own chasing Homing Destructo Disc.
    • Taken to the nth degree when Cell self-destructs and blows up King Kai's planet, also killing Goku— when Cell regenerates he knows the Instant Transmission technique that Goku employs. He somehow LEARNED the technique from Goku's CELLS.
  • In the manga Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken, it's said by the Big Bad that Dragon Knights have a "Genetic Battle Memory", that makes them remember every technique of their ancestors. The main character, Dai, gets this when he gets his father Baran's Dragon Crest, showing the use of, between other's, Baran's special technique Doruoora.
  • In the intro to Pokémon: The First Movie, Dr. Fuji is trying to use cloning technology to bring his daughter Amber back to life. Before she dies, Ambertwo has all of the original Amber's memories.
    • In the ninth movie, the People of the Water have a genetic dream. After learning about it, Brock mentions "A memory written straight into your DNA? That's just... awesome...
  • In the manga Akumetsu, the protagonists inherit each others memories by way of machinery they use. This is a tool in the plot.
  • In Senki Zesshou Symphogear, it turns out that Big Bad Fine/Phine will take over any of her descendants if they're exposed to a certain phonic wavelength. Like the head of the science division, Ryouko Sakurai.
  • In Hunter × Hunter, several of the Chimera Ants possess the memories of humans the Chimera Ant Queen devoured thanks to the weird way Chimera Ant biology works. Notable examples include Colt, one of the first humanoid Chimera Ants who bears the memories of a little boy who was one of the Queen's first human victims, one of Hina's attendants who bears the memories of that same boy's little sister Reina, the Queen's second victim, and the Queen's last child, a little girl with a rat tail who insist on being called Kite.

    Comic Books 
  • Every single clone of Spider-man ever made (and that's a lot), has Peter Parker's complete memories up to the time he was cloned. Even if the clone is evil or a woman or a giant scorpion.
    • The Venom symbiote and its spawn seem to have the ability to selectively pass on memories of a past host to a new one.
  • Wolverine and Sabertooth are not related, but according to Wolverine: Origins (no, not the movie), both are part of a prehistoric race of wolfpeople who fought each other for millions of years because they have a different hair color, and this battle has been watched over since the beginning by someone who started out as an amino acid in the primordial ooze.
    • Unusually for a comic book clone, Wolverine's Opposite-Sex Clone, X-23, completely averts this trope, having to be implanted in the womb, carried to term, delivered via normal birth, and aging normally, while possessing none of Logan's memories.
  • An issue of Aliens depicts the gestating Xenomorphs as experiencing an eerie blend of alien race-memory and the individual memories of the host they're growing inside.
  • Rosie in ElfQuest: The Rebels was created by mixing some human genes with genetic material extracted from a preserver corpse. She seems to retain the preserver memories.
  • The 9-2010 issue of the Dutch version of Donald Duck magazine insists on "memory genes" passed on subconsciously by the parents. Somewhere, a biology teacher is crying.
  • Doomsday was a life form that had been released into primitive Krypton's harsh environment, killed by the native wildlife, and then cloned from the remains, again and again. He retained memories of all his deaths, eventually killing his creator as payback for his agony.

    Fan Fic 
  • Spacegodzilla from the Godzilla and My Little Pony:Friendship Is Magic crossover, The Bridge straddles between this and Past-Life Memories, as he is a heavily altered clone of the deceased Heisei Godzilla. He starts having nightmares comprised of some of his donor's memories, which is very timely as the foe he sees Godzilla fighting in the past has recently reemerged.

    Film 
  • John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) had genetic memory. One of the 3rd or 4th generation ones was building a spacecraft in the basement of the Antarctic base.
    • Questionable how much this counts, as the Thing was essentially one entity that split up into multiple bodies. As such, its memories could have merely been retained, not rebooted from its genes.
  • The film version of Ćon Flux is centered around a futuristic society of clones whose DNA are stored in an archive. Whenever a clone dies, their replacement gets implanted into a pregnant woman and is reborn. It is implied that genetic memories of people's past lives are transmitted this way and that the accumulation of said memories is slowly driving humanity insane.
    • Interestingly, this was not the case with the Goodchild brothers, whose memories were not genetic but simply communicated from their previous versions in surprising detail. To the Goodchilds, it did feel like they have lived those past lives.
  • In The Fifth Element, Leeloo's DNA was explicitly stated to be vastly more complex than regular DNA, which allowed her to retain her knowledge of her native language after she was regrown from her severed hand.
  • Altered States deals with this.
  • The original cut of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace featured this: Nuclear Man is actually a clone of a previous Nuclear Man, and his knowledge of Superman and infatuation with Lacy are both inherited from the first.
  • As mentioned in the quote, Ripley in Alien: Resurrection.
    • Also the Xenomorphs as a species. Ripley 8's genetic memory was somehow the result of the cloning process mingling her physiology with some of the traits of the Xenomorph queen her predecessor had died carrying.
  • A variation of this exists with the immortals in the Underworld films, where a vampire or a lycan can gain some memories of any other immortal he or she drinks from. Additionally, the fledglings experience some memories of their makers. Every time a vampire Elder rises from slumber, his or her predecessor orders his or her memory before passing it via blood as an update of sorts on the current events. Once Marcus becomes a hybrid, he can apparently clearly read any memory he chooses from blood, which is a skill even the Elders lack. Of course, this could be simply because he is the progenitor of all vampires.
  • In The Island Lincoln Six Echo and some of the other clones have inherited faint memories from their originals, the main significance being that he can copy Tom Lincoln's Scottish accent perfectly and the rest of his "generation" is almost incinerated as "flawed".
  • In Gremlins one of the gremlins is blown up in a microwave and in the sequel the new batch of gremlins apparently know what a microwave is and destroy one by throwing kitchen utensils in it and turning it on. How they knew microwaving metal would make it explode is another matter.
  • Oblivion (2013): All clones of Jack Harper seem to have this about loving Julia (at the least). The 49th Tech clone of Harper goes as far as to blow himself (and the Tet) up to keep her safe, while the 52nd clone (who gets distracted by Julia during his fight with the 49th) goes looking for her some time after meeting her, finally finding her on the last scene of the film.

    Literature 
  • Adventure Hunters: Despite its Nuclear Weapons Taboo, Nicholi didn't want his knowledge of golem crafting to go to waste so he implanted it into the genetics of his family line. Regina is the latest link in this chain.
  • Weird example from Animorphs: In a near-death experience, Tobias starts having vivid flashbacks to the life of his father, Elfangor. He later mentions it to Ax, who says that Andalites used to believe in genetic memory but that it was long dismissed as superstition. What makes it weird is that it clearly has some genetic and some non-genetic component, as Tobias is not from a genetics perspective Elfangor's son and experienced memories that happened after he was born, but at the same time he was only able to access them while in the body of Elfangor's brother Ax, who is genetically his brother.
    • The Howlers also have a racial memory that allows them to remember every battle they ever won. Jake is able to access it when he morphs into a Howler, and the Animorphs "infect" it with memories that threaten to give the whole species a Heel Realization, forcing Crayak to eliminate the affected Howlers. Unfortunately for Crayak, the memory of Jake and Cassie kissing slips by him.
  • Before the "RNA memory" theory was discredited, Larry Niven used it as a teaching device in his short story "Rammer" and its novel expansion, A World Out of Time.
  • Jack London:
    • In the short novel Before Adam the protagonist tells us his dreams of the life of one of his distant ancestor, an early hominid. He explains that these are genetic memories, and that the reason his are so clear and specific is he is a "freak". (He specifically denies they could be the result of reincarnation, and explains why.)
    • In The Call of the Wild Buck occasionally has dreams of primitive humans and there are several references to his ancestors telling him how to survive.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's seminal Childhood's End, the alien Overlords, when they reveal themselves, are the very model of devils: leather wings, red skin, horns, tail. Everybody figures that they are in fact the source of devil myths, through some encounter back in mankind's history remembered through racial memory. It turns out to be a case of Genetic Foreshadowing. The Overlords play a role in mankind's ultimate extinction, an event so traumatic for the humans of the future that it somehow echoes back into the past.
  • Though it's never explicitly stated, the Vord from Codex Alera appear to have this. At the very least, the Vord Queen knows exactly what she is, what her purpose is, and how to use all her abilities despite never having met a single other member of her species since hatching that wasn't one of her own offspring. Later on, she occasionally references events from the ancient history of the Vord as though she were there, even though that would be impossible considering her youth.
  • Averted in Gillian Cross's The Demon Headmaster series of children's books. The genetics-themed entry in the series ends with the death of the villainous Headmaster, with a hint that a clone of him will be regrown. The fact that said clone does not have the original's memories is acknowledged in the following novel (the Internet-themed one).
  • A Doctor Who novelization had the whole idea of RNA being used for memory storage. Justified/Lampshaded when Martha points out that the theory has been discredited, and the Doctor replies that he's sort of generalizing, as the creature in question has Bizarre Alien Biology that transfers memories through a substance sorta-like RNA, only not.
  • In the Dragonriders of Pern series, fire lizards (the genetic ancestors of dragons) have a way of remembering things that happened far, far in the past that defies any explanation other than this. Interestingly, groups of fire lizards can transfer entire sets of memories to each other psychically, and large groups of them can also communicate in a similar manner with humans.
    • Not really the only plausible answer, as we later learn that firelizards don't age. They're also psychic with an implied hive mind, and can teleport through space-time... so yeah. There are three or four other canon options for how they do it.
  • The Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers of the Dune series are capable of calling upon their genetic memories with the aid of extensive training to control and be aware of their own metabolism, and the use of a highly potent awareness enhancing drug. They are somewhat limited, since the training of the Bene Gesserit leaves them with a mindset which prevents them from accessing the memories of their male ancestry, and the techniques (which were developed over the course of several centuries and take a lifetime to be taught) cannot be taught to men. The drug also kills anyone without the training to alter it within their body. The Bene Gesserit thus initiated a breeding program over ten thousand years to create a man who could access the full memories of his entire ancestry.
    • Gholas, essentially the corpses of dead people brought back to life by Tleilaxu science, are memory-less but the Tleilaxu learn in Dune Messiah that a strong trauma can restore their memories. That's reasonable, but later this even works for clones, and reaches its ultimate heights in Heretics of Dune where a clone of Duncan Idaho gains the memories of every other clone that's ever been made of Duncan Idaho.
    • According to the prequel novels, the first person to be able to recall memories of ancestors was not a Bene Gesserit but Norma Cenva, the misshapen daughter of a Sorceress of Rossak. After an interrogation by the Cymeks triggers her latent (extremely powerful) Psychic Powers, the mental blast not only fries every Cymek in the vicinity but also disintegrates her own body. Her consciousness manages to rebuild her body atom-by-atom based on the best features of her female ancestors whom she could suddenly remember. However, she does not found the Bene Gesserit school and instead becomes the first Navigator after allowing her body to mutate (she previously maintained it with her powers). The person who becomes the first Reverend Mother is Raquella Berto-Anirul, Vorian Atreides's granddaughter, who is poisoned by a Sorceress of Rossak but is somehow able to turn the poison into a Super Serum in her body. It takes her a long time to re-create her experiment, in order to replenish the ranks of the dying Sorceresses with new Reverend Mothers (different abilities).
  • In the original Clan of The Cave Bear, the Neanderthals were portrayed as having racial memories, which was supposed to both make up for their lack of verbal skills and imagination and keep them socially and "technologically" stagnant.
    • Dougal Dixon gives a Shout-Out to this in Man After Man, in which Homo mensproavodorum evolves Genetic Memory thousands of years after its ancestor, Homo sapiens sapiens, has died out. Also a bit of a Take That, as reliance on hereditary memory does have its limitations in a changing world: the first hominid to possess this capability travels for hundreds of miles in search of a lush woodland she "remembers", only to find that it's been reduced to a forest of dead, leafless trunks. She survives, but her mate doesn't make it.
  • Inverted in Good Omens, where it's suggested that Agnes Nutter could "remember" things that were going to happen to her descendants. This explains why her prophecies, though unfailingly accurate, tend to focus on things that affect her family, even if they don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. (She predicted a house collapsing in a small English town, but not the Kennedy assassination the same day.)
  • The Souls from The Host have a form of this, though given the way they reproduce, it kinda makes a vague sort of sense.
  • One of the alien lifeforms in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth Novels has a literal genetic memory, in that the parent passes on the rapidly changing hunting methods of its main predator to the offspring, which receive no parental care and fend for themselves as soon as they emerge from their egg-equivalent.
  • Legacy of the Dragokin: When Benji awakens his latent dragokin powers this is the explanation for why he immediately knows how to use them.
  • In Life, the Universe and Everything, Englishmen apparently created the game cricket out of distorted racial memory of the Krikkit Wars. It wasn't just the name, either. The Krikkit preferred to throw spherical bombs by hitting them with sticks. The fact that humans turned it into a game was not received very well by the galactic community.
  • In The Mask of Circe, one of Henry Kuttner's novels, the hero (who lived in the 20th century) had achieved the memories of his ancient ancestor - Jason (the mythologic character) through some kind of science experiment.
  • Headies (highly intelligent psychic dog-like aliens) in the Noonverse have this naturally.
  • The central character in Piers Anthony's Orn is a large omnivorous flightless bird, which is less intelligent than a person but has Genetic Memory going back to the earliest vertebrates.
  • In the novel Planet of the Apes, the ape scientists in the Encephalic Section access the memory of several humans in an experiment on one woman.
  • In Stephen Hunt's The Rise of the Iron Moon, Purity dreams of a longago ancestor.
  • The Tholians in the Star Trek Novel Verse. Encoded in their crystalline molecules is every memory of their people, dating back to the first moment of sapience. Many are buried deep, of course, not generally available to a given individual unless they're brought to the fore by powerful emotional or psychic triggers. Due to the short lifespan of members of many Tholian castes, memories and experience are often "uploaded" to the next generation from the pool of ancestral memories. This is one reason why Tholians hold grudges for an uncomfortably long time - the memories are fresh in their minds for generations.
    • In the novel Spock's World, McCoy mentions getting a Vulcan RNA transplant, which allows him to understand the language better than the universal translators.
  • Dodged around in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Clones that go through the Spaarti treatment, going from nothing to a functioning adult in a year or less, are indoctrinated or given the prime clone's memories through some kind of pre-decanting process which is never really described, but it's definitely not genetic. At one point an Ithorian who killed someone, a major taboo for his culture, felt guilty enough to make two clones, and when they appear briefly in a novel they're just that Ithorian's twin human sons, not at all like the Jerkass he killed. Clones are also not the same as the originals, Palpatine with his Body Surf notwithstanding. Timothy Zahn, a prominent writer, is on record saying that he might one day bring back a clone of Thrawn, but said clone will be fully aware that he isn't Thrawn, and might not have the same personality or genius. He'll also be aware of the crushing expectation everyone will have for him to live up to the original.
    • The 'verse does hold that some fears and likes are genetic - a couple of clones believe Jango was claustrophobic, for example, because they are. That's a little less far fetched than full-fledged memories.
    • In Galaxy of Fear: Clones there is an impossibly quick method for producing clones and giving them the scanned memories of their templates (with the downside that, because they are so rushed, the clones are permanently in the emotional state the original was in at time of scanning, and cannot distinguish fantasy from reality). Darth Vader was scanned and a drop of his blood spilled, and the resulting Darth Vader Clone, looking for minions, found old cell samples at an abandoned Rebel base. Since the clones produced from those didn't come with mind scans, they weren't at all useful to him.
  • Frank Schätzing's The Swarm/Der Schwarm features a sea dwelling hive mind of single cell organisms known as the Yrr. It is suggested that the Yrr remember events from millions of years ago either by actively coding memories into their DNA or membranes/proteins or by acting somewhat like a huge brain i.e. defective cells within the neural network are constantly replaced with new cells which are given information from other neural network cells that have yet to be replaced in order to maintain memories.
  • Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon books involve an alien virus with this trait. The Ontongard and the Pack are both created with a complete set of memories from every prior member of that lineage.
  • The Wheel of Time has what is known as "the old blood", a phenomenon which results in people having their ancestors' memories and spontaneously shouting battle cries of ancient nations in a dead language. Mat Cauthon is has it particularly strongly. Some characters also obtain memories from their past lives or those of other people in ways unrelated to genetics.
  • In Jeff Long's Year Zero, the clones produced from religious relics dated to around the time of Jesus's death all have intact memories of their life prior to death, as does a Neanderthal clone.
    • In Long's other book The Descent (not to be confused with the 2005 movie), a subterranean hominid species known as the Hadal are capable of inheriting genetic memories from previous generations. In one scene, a deceased Hadal also passes their consciousness and memories to a human's body through an electrical signal transmitted by touch. It is implied that this is how the Big Bad, Satan, has survived since the beginning of humanity.
  • Eventually it's revealed in Razorland Trilogy that this is why the Freaks hate the humans so much.
  • Some kender in the Dragonlance novels believe that they have a kind of racial memory that will let them dredge up information about a place on the basis of other kender having wandered there in the past. It's uncertain whether or not this is true, but when Tasslehoff Burrfoot tries to use this ability on a scorched wasteland, he immediately discovers that it's the town he lives in, in a Bad Future.

    Live Action TV 
  • Goa'uld on Stargate SG-1 explicitly have this, and it is conscious: A Goa'uld queen chooses what memories she transmits to her children.
    • In one episode where O'Neill learns of this, he asks if that includes remembering their conception, and then states that that's probably why all the Goa'uld are so pissed all the time.
    • Several episodes deal with the concept of a Harsesis: a child of two Goa'uld-implanted humans. Such a child would be a human with the complete genetic memory of both Goa'uld lines, and a major threat to Goa'uld domination. One episode has Shifu, a Harsesis, explain the need to keep that part of him suppressed to Daniel by causing him to relive a possibility of getting some of these memories and slowly turning evil.
    • In "Prototype", a genetically-engineered human named Khalek is found in one of Anubis's secret labs. It turns out that Anubis combined the Harsesis concept with Nirrti's hok'tar research to create a host that would have Goa'uld genetic memories (and their "evilness") and have superhuman abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis. The ultimate goal was to create an army that would be able to ascend and kill the Ancients. Interestingly, Neil Jackson, who played Khalek, would later go on to play another telekinetic in Push.
  • In Stargate Atlantis the whale-like creatures native to the planet Atlantis is initially located on have genetic memory, and a form of telepathy. In one episode they attempt to warn the expedition of a solar storm that happens once every several thousand years by showing them their memories of the Ancients' experience with the last one, but there was evidently some data corruption over the generations as the Ancients they project speak high-pitched gibberish and it takes some time for the expedition to figure out what's going on.
  • There's an episode of Andromeda with a race of people who have this, and later the Body Horror that hatches from them inherits it.
  • Zigzagged on Star Trek: Enterprise; Phlox cloned Trip, and the clone had all of Trip's memories but this was not, strictly speaking, a clone but a symbiotic life form that absorbs memories with the genes but Phlox explicitly mentions human genetic memory as the reason he had Trip's memories.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Favorite Son", Harry Kim suddenly starts knowing things he shouldn't, such as that an alien ship is about to attack Voyager. It turns out he has the DNA of the alien Taresians, and his new knowledge comes from that DNA.
    • Except that it turned out that it was an elaborate trap by the Taresians to lure Harry (and any other male they could get their hands on) in, to steal their life force. Without their tampering, Harry had about as much genetic similarity to the Taresians as we do to lizards.
  • In the Doctor Who serial The Invisible Enemy, The Doctor creates clones of himself and Leela, who have the memories of their originals.
    • K-9 and the Doctor do explain that these clones are really more like a biological photocopy than proper clones, hence their shortened lifespans
    • In Frontios, Turlough has bad BSOD when his ancestral memories of the bad guys come back.
    • The Wirrrn from The Ark in Space have racial memories.
    • By the late 20th century, humanity has genetic memories of Kronos, the being (or one of them) that destroyed Atlantis thousands of years ago. One of the scientists working on the Master's TOMTIT in The Time Monster recognised Kronos without ever seeing it before.
  • Farscape had a device that "twinned" the target, creating a duplicate that was perfect in every way. Exactly how it worked isn't precise — it have been a subatomic-particle-by-particle reconstruction rather than genetic memory—but the memory and personality were identical.
    • For some reason, the Scarrans believe that they can extract wormhole knowledge from an embryo in Aeryn's womb. The kid doesn't even have a brain yet. Give it a break.
  • Subverted in Jekyll, where the modern Mr. Hyde experiences a rush of memories from his alter ego, then unexpectedly flashes back to the ORIGINAL Jekyll in Victorian times and verbalizes this to the observing scientists. "Genetic memory doesn't work like that." "Of course not, maybe he's got something else. Something better."
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an early episode has Odo wondering about his people, feeling that his strong sense of justice is a racial memory, giving him an idea of the kind of people they are. His people are in fact a group of brutal oppressors who often engage in genocide. That being said, they do have the ability to transfer information through touch, but it applied to his sense of order, not justice.
    • The episode where the crew finds an infant Jem'haddar includes the child spontaneously demonstrating complete language skills in a matter of hours. The doctor notes that it would be impossible for him to have learned that from simple observation, so it MUST be some kind of implanted genetic memory (the Jem'haddar were in fact created by genetic engineering). Apparently, in the Trek-verse, genetic memory is more feasible than advanced language learning.
  • This is precisely the main plot of the episode Aubrey in the 2nd season of The X-Files. A female police officer that was adopted begins to remember and reproduce the slayings committed by a grandfather she never knew, who was a serial killer.
  • Perhaps not a true example but an honorable mention: In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "We'll Always Have Paris," Data and Geordi talk about the pseudo-scientific of this trope (specifically the believed role RNA plays in memory). It's possible most of the "scientific understanding" that allows this trope to prevail comes from this episode.
    • In the Expanded Universe, the Federation even has the technology to use RNA therapy as a teaching tool. In Spock's World, McCoy mentions having used RNA therapy to learn the Vulcan language (hence, he picks up certain nuances that Kirk, using the Universal Translator, misses)
  • Roswell also plays with this. The four hybrids in the series are in fact the clones of their previous selves: the king, the queen, the king's sister and his second in command. The aliens' original plan was for them to fully remember who they were, and went back to free their people. Of course, it backfired, since the hybrids emerged too young and with no memory of their home planet, their purpose here, or even their powers. Through the series, they do remember brief aspects of who they were, but they rarely seem to embrace it because they are afraid of what it meant to "be" somebody else.
  • On The Invisible Man, human genetic memory is encoded in "memory RNA", but can only be accessed by someone with a Quicksilver gland in their head. This led to problems when Fawkes started to be affected by the memories of the gland's first owner.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu campaign The Fungi From Yuggoth, adventure "Sands of Time". Both the archvillain and the player characters experience an awakening of ancient genetic memories stored in their DNA.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has some creatures with this trait.
    • The underground sea-dwelling Eldritch Abominations known as Aboleths exhibit this in Dungeons & Dragons (3rd edition, anyway). Each of them inherits every single memory from its parent, resulting in a staggering amount of information being in their head at birth, and allowing two Aboleths to see how they're related based on how far back their memories diverge. What's really creepy is that these memories go back farther than the creation of the world...
      • Aboleths gain the memories of creatures they eat. And, like the Goa'uld, have genetic memory that reaches back eons. They remember a time when they ruled the world. They are understandably bitter about the current state of affairs.
    • Multi-Armed and Dangerous insectoids Thri-Kreen ("mantis warriors") have racial memory which isn't readily available, but is awakened by some reminders, piece-by-piece. Includes necessary skills like their language (spoken and written), how to make construction material from saliva, typical designs based on this material (like throwing weapon) and other interesting things.
    • Dragons basically are able to pass along edited instincts through their genes — so yes, if a dragon researches some new spell, its children can learn it automatically. Or, if some evil empire nearly kills the parent (before the eggs are created, obviously), the children will know to avoid that kind of thing without being told. Given that most dragons are probably not great parents this is one possible way they know things like language, that or magic.
  • In a rather squicky variation, Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000 have the ability to absorb the memories of the dead by eating their flesh, particularly the brain.
    • Furthermore, each Space Marine is based on the genetic template of a Primarch, one of the first Space Marines. The Blood Angels chapter and their successors have a random chance of triggering the genetic memory of their Primarch's bloody death, which can drive them into an Unstoppable Rage.
    • Also, the Physical God Nightbringer had caused so much terror and death eons ago that it caused every single living thing since the to have a fear of death as part of its Genetic Memory, and why the most common depiction of death is the Grim Reaper. Oh, except Orks. They're immune to the whole fear of death thing.
    • The Orks also have all of their knowledge of machinery and science preprogrammed into their genetic code. Most of this does not take hold until in the presence of other Orks, or Orkish "teknology," however.
  • Werewolves from Werewolf: The Apocalypse also did the whole "be so bad you are remembered genetically" thing. In their case, any normal human starts panicking horribly when they see a werewolf's war form, and is unable to remember what happened afterwards.
    • The Mokole (were-lizards who used to be were-dinosaurs) are specifically referred to as the "Memory of Gaia" and all of them have access to genetic memory dating back as far as the dinos (and their OLD other halves, a humanoid dino race that died out during the mass extinction). They can access the memories of either side of their lineage, regardless of whether those were the memories of Mokole individuals to begin with.
      • These guys REMEMBER their ancestors guiding the evolution of mammals to produce something humanoid in order to replace their extinct other form (their bestial dino-side forms just kept evolving with other lizards, but they never used the old humanoid form anymore out of respect and grief).
    • Prometheans also have an abstract form of Genetic Memory in the form of the "Residual Memory" Merit. With it, they can draw upon skills favored by the body they occupy.
  • The advantage Racial Memory in GURPS is a vaguely defined version of this. In the Space book the weaker version is listed among the traits that a realistic alien could have.
  • In the setting Arcana Evolved, being able to access one's genetic memory (called "akashic memory") is the stated skill of the rogue, and the akashic memory also plays a large role in the worldbuilding and flavor text.
    • The memory isn't genetic. It's the sum of all knowledge of all humanoid beings, or maybe everything intelligent. You don't need to be the same species to delve into someone else's memories if you're good enough. And while the akashic class is something like a D&D rogue, there are other ways to be roguish without being an akashic.

    Video Games 
  • The premise of the Assassin's Creed series is that human beings have genetic memories that can be unlocked and viewed via a device called an Animus. The modern-day Mega Corp. that developed the device is using it to locate powerful hidden artifacts by kidnapping people with important ancestors and forcing them to relive their past lives. The process has side-effects, however. Prolonged use causes a "bleeding effect" wherein users take on skills possessed by their ancestors and experience memories while not in the Animus, eventually resulting in insanity. It is later revealed that genetic memory was deliberately programmed into humans by Those Who Came Before as part of a plan allowing them to communicate across time with the modern-day descendants of the Assassins.

    Assassin's Creed: Revelations puts a twist on this: Since Desmond Miles' ability to view Altaďr's genetic memories ends with the conception of his second son, Altaďr's subsequent memories are viewed secondhand, by means of the Masyaf Keys that Ezio uncovers during the course of his adventure. So in this case it's a Genetic Memory of Ezio viewing the stored memories of Altaďr.
  • In Record Of Agarest War 2, all main characters after Weiss inherit Weiss lost memories followed by his nightmares. Turns out, it's because they are all the same person right from the very beginning.
  • The Dnyarri in Star Control 2. Although, their memory may just be a result of being in proximity to other Dnyarri, as they are telepaths. After all, who's to say that memories can't be instinctively psychically passed down through generations? At least, that's what we all * want* to think. The dialogue is explicit about them being stored in genes. The writers should really leave us more elbow room to Fan Wank about Psychic Powers.
    • -< DON'T YOU MEAN TO TALK ABOUT FLOWERS? >-
    • There's also the Ur-Quan Kohr-Ah, who have a sort of racial memory, if one would believe what they say when you engage in dialogue with them with a Dnyarri on board.
    • And the Mycon, although the accuracy of their memories seems to have been damaged in the hundreds of thousands of years their creators abandoned them.
  • The "ghosts" in BioShock are explained as memories being passed around through ADAM. It started happening after the Little Sisters were deployed to collect loose ADAM from the dead. This becomes a much bigger plot point in the sequel.
  • In Xenogears, Fei and Elly are both the latest in the Single Line of Descent for each of their incarnations, and are explicitly said to have the unique ability to "encode memories in their introns". Furthermore, the potential to suddenly become the new Miang, memories and all, is inherent in every woman on the planet. Don't try and figure that one out.
  • The Martians of Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams were a strikingly memorable example. In the first stage of life, their bodies grow as plants, and in the process they absorb knowledge of their dead ancestors through the common "ancestral soil". In fact, a Martian body grown elsewhere is more or less a (mental) vegetable.
    • "Ancestral soil" here means compost made from the shed leaves of other martians, as well as dead bodies; some martians had as a profession to collect these for mulching. When the martians said they absorbed knowledge, they were speaking literally.
  • Hieda no Akyu from Touhou literally has this for her special ability, which she then uses to record the history of Gensokyo. She is the ninth child of a line that goes back for roughly 1200 years, so the only person that recognizes her in any way is the character that created Gensokyo, Yukari Yakumo.
  • In Wild ARMs XF, it's revealed that the Precursors programmed in all of their knowledge into general human DNA, including the Yggadrassil System, needed to keep Filgaia going.
  • It's an explicit part of Pokémon that you can use Genetic Memory to pass on moves from parent to child, potentially unleashing a level 1 mon with Hyper Beam on the world.
    • Dragon Quest Monsters uses the same trope, though if you have Blazemost, you simply start out with Blaze. You have to meet statistical requirements.
  • The homunculi Irisviel von Einsbern and her daughter Illyasviel in Fate/stay night and prequel Fate/Zero share the memories and experiences of their 'blueprint' originator, Lizleihi Justizia von Einsbern, who lived over two hundred years ago; at times, this will manifest like an alternate personality (e.g. when Zouken met Ilya, who started to talk like Justizia) and is a plot point in both works.
  • In Psychonauts, one of the patients in the abandoned insane asylum is said to have been taken over by the genetic memory of his distant ancestor, Napoleon. Given how much Napoleon is presented as his Theme Park Version, it's more likely that this is more due to a combination of insanity and the strong psychic field generated by the area, not to mention Rule of Funny.
  • It's theorized by some that Gnomes in Warcraft universe have some form of genetic memory. They were originally created by the Titans to build and maintain their machinery and were later turned into organic creatures (along with Dwarfs and Vrykuls) by the Old God's Curse of Flesh. Several machines created by Gnomes are very similar to those found in ancient Titan complexes, suggesting they may have an innate ability to build such machines.
    • Or it could just be regular knowledge passed on through the generations. Gnomes lost the knowledge of their origins as titanic creations, but that doesn't mean they ever lost all of their technology and had to reinvent it from scratch. Gnomes seem to be much more interested in gizmos than history, so likely their educational system doesn't emphasize the latter so much.
  • In The Force Unleashed 2, Darth Vader creates a series of clones of Starkiller, the protagonist of the first game. Vader becomes disappointed that he can't seem to make a clone that doesn't remember Starkiller's lover, Juno Eclipse, as the imprinted love causes them to rebel against Vader and The Dark Side. The Dark Side ending reveals an evil clone that has Starkiller's memories, but has absolute contempt for everything Starkiller loved.
  • In Mass Effect, the queens of the Rachni, a species of sentient insectoids, inherit all memories of their mothers.
    • It eventually turns out that the Protheans have Super Senses that let them read the genetic memory of any creature they touch, and can even absorb this information by being in a room that someone was in, even if they haven't been there for months.
  • In the lore of EVE Online, the Intaki supposedly have this, though details are vague. In a process derived from their religious practices, called "Rebirth", the personality of a dying adult is transfered to a newborn. Today it's done with technology, from which came a lot of cloning tech. Spiritual leaders called "Idama" apparently/supposedly still do it the old way, and with training can access past memories.
  • In Overblood, Milly (a clone) has all the memories of the original, justified because the husband of the original made her as a Replacement Goldfish.
  • The Tzhaar of Runescape, being by far the most bizarre race in the game, give birth to children that have all the memories of all their ancestors. It's very important in lore as it's how they keep records of their history and retain knowledge of how their individual castes work.

    Web Comics 
  • Amorphs in Schlock Mercenary; as the descendants of partially organic self-reproducing memory systems, the amorphs are able to pass memories between each other at will, and in most cases a child will have at least some of their parents' memories and personality traits (though an amorph parent can also deliberately craft their child's personality to resemble someone they admire, even if that person isn't an amorph). One of the reasons Schlock is unusual is that he was 'born' without any of the memories of the two amorphs he formed from, only retaining the overwhelming self-preservation instinct from the two combatants.
    • In a more low-key example, the reason Legs is such a natural at Parkata Urbatsu is that her species is descended from avians, and she retains the instincts for flight even though her wings are vestigial.
  • The Cyantian Chronicles: Downplayed. Neefla do not have genetic memory presay because the knowledge is imparted during the birthing process instead of conception but this is functionally the same: a newborn with an adult's experience. The lack of this is considered both a tragedy and a boone. While they lack years of knowledge, they have no preconceptions and are the greatest inventors and innovators of Neefla society.
    • The Rumuah who created the immigrant Cyantians also had genetic memories.
    • It's suggested that wolves of the Akaelae bloodline have this as well but they haven't displayed any unless dreams of running through the woods naked count.
  • In Homestuck, Doc Scratch theorizes that unusual genetics are the reason The Signless had visions of a peaceful troll civilization— Kankri's memories of Beforus were apparently literally in his blood.

    Web Original 
  • The Creepy Pasta "Genetic Memory" (available in illustrated form as the second part of this video) makes the claim that this is the reason humanity finds certain features like pale skin, dark, sunken eyes, elongated faces, and sharp teeth so frightening — hence why so many horror icons possess one or more of these features. The story then asks what could have happened long ago that made humanity so afraid of these features...

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Some argue the idea of biological instincts or Jung's proposed collective unconscious are a real life toned down example of genetic memory. That said, the details of said collective unconscious "memories" are debatable.
  • Planarian flatworms were thought to have genetic memory based on a certain experiment. One worm was taught to navigate a maze, then ground up and fed to a second worm. This second worm would then navigate the maze as well as the first with no practice. Later experiments proved that the second worm was following a scent trail; when placed in an identical but unused maze it showed no sign of the supposed genetic memory.
  • It takes the monarch butterfly several generations to travel to secluded areas of Mexico where they winter in a few specific groves of trees. It only takes one generation to return to the north, who follow the exact same path as their great great grandparents.
  • In some pseudo-scientific interpretations of The Bible (and many other myths), the story of The Flood is believed to be a latent memory of life before evolution on land.
  • This article suggests that genetic memory is responsible for autistic savants. Though in this instance it's skills that are encoded in the genes rather than memories of events or facts.
  • A subtle variation: There are frequent stories by recipients of donor organs (particularly heart transplants) where they report taking on personality traits or habits of the deceased donor, such as acquiring a taste for the donor's favorite foods (even if it was something the recipient despised before the surgery).
  • A study with mice showed that rodents trained to fear the smell of cherry blossoms passed on that fear to their descendants via epigenetic changes to their sperm.

Genetic Engineering is the New NukeGenetic TropesHollywood Genetics
Gameplay-Guided AmnesiaMemory TropesGhost Amnesia
Genetic Engineering is the New NukeSpeculative Fiction TropesGenie in a Bottle

alternative title(s): Racial Memories
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