Jean-Baptiste Lamarck: What I am saying is that basically, the inheritance of acquired traits change a species over time. Georges Cuvier: And what I am saying is no, that is the stupidest thing anyone has ever heard of.
In The Golden Age of Comic Books, there were well established ways for a character to gain his or her powers: being bitten by a radioactive spider, doing years of Charles Atlas training, having a near-death experience, extensive mystic training, getting an artifact of great power, being disgustingly wealthy, and scores of other imaginative backstories. With the advent of the Silver Age onwards, these Golden Age heroes had children. Naturally, they inherited their parents' powers and heroic tendencies and many became legacy characters, through the sometimes magical agency of Superpowerful Genetics.
Um. Okay. We'll make that deal, for the sake of story.
Tough to see, though, how training is inherited, or how body-mods get passed on. Pretty good chance that any kid that Iron Man might have had would not have been born with rivets.
If the comic or show is rife with My Kung-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours, then the superkid will luck out and be at least as powerful as the strongest parent at the time of conception, and often radically more powerful. This can get interesting if a family has more than one kid, as each succeeding one gets stronger. This usually also applies to fighting skills; they'll be a prodigy black belt before they can walk. If the parent got their powers from a magical or technological artifact, they'll have "internalized" and passed on that item's power. To use a real world analogy: if your mom were an IT expert that always carried around a laptop, you'd have a Bluetooth connection in your head and know how to code a Linux kernel from scratch.
Other times, if the parent got their power from a Freak Lab Accident involving Applied Phlebotinum, their children will all have that same power, regardless of whether it affected their DNA. This also applies to magic and telepathic powers. With Functional Magic the reason it's passed down will frequently be less biological than spiritual, so the usual rules need not apply. Another real-world analogy: If your dad were a food tester who developed a high tolerance for poison through controlled exposure, you'd have his high resistance and then some. This one is often retconned into a Meta Origin or Secret Legacy; for instance, maybe the accident didn't cause your dad's powers, it just unlocked the powers already in his DNA, and he passed the "unlocked" version on to you. This has the advantage of bearing a nodding resemblance to a real scientific phenomenon.
This trope is named for Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French naturalist whose theories (of which we call Lamarckian evolution) inspired Charles Darwin and eventually led to modern Darwinian evolution. While very insightful, his theory of "Inheritance of Acquired Traits" incorrectly viewed the cause of evolution as the parents' learned self-improvements in life being passed on to their offspring. Giraffes had long necks because they kept stretching for higher branches over many generations, for instance. While this idea has become closely linked to Lamarck, it was not original to Lamarck, nor was it central to Lamarck's contribution to evolutionary theory.
There is a real world phenomenon known as the epigenome, that describes how the DNA expression if not actual DNA can be affected by environmental factors in the lives of ancestors. For instance, famines at certain stages in the lives of grandparents can adjust the rates of diabetes in the grandchildren. Hank Green briefly explains the relatively new field of epigenetics in this YouTube video. Another often overlooked possibility is gut bacteria, which are known to change in response to environmental factors and are passed from a mother to their baby at birth. But while this can affect stuff like heritability of IQ or the ability to metabolize milk proteins, it is unlikely to confer say, complex things such as your mother's encyclopaedic knowledge in engineering or your father's macaroni cooking skills. It might tend towards a better production of muscle/brain tissue or something like that, but skill itself is not biologically heritable.
Sub-Trope of Superior Successor. May be used to explain/justify Genetic Memory.
See also Evolutionary Levels and Superpowerful Genetics. Compare In the Blood for the morality version. Generation Xerox is this trope Up to Eleven; the kids inherit more than just their parent's physical traits. Sub-Trope of All Theories Are True. Muggle Born of Mages is the subversion. Randomly Gifted is an aversion.
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It's never outright stated, but Dragon Ball Z implies that Goten and Trunks can reach Super Saiyan at a young age because their fathers had achieved the level before the boys' birth; compare to Gohan, born before Goku ever became a Super Saiyan, and had to earn it the same way his father and Vegeta did. This was apparently a major source of fan contention, since some viewers took a cue from Vegeta and complained it took away from the mythos of how becoming Super Saiyan was supposed to be incredibly difficult. Also, it is noted that we don't know when Trunks was conceived, as it could have been before Vegeta transformed.
GT takes this to the extreme in the final episode by showing distant descendants of Goku and Vegeta (identical grandsons, actually) can achieve Super Saiyan without even realizing the significance of it.
Goku implied at one point that the generations after his and Vegeta's are stronger because the enemies they've had to face were much more powerful; Gohan was strong enough to fight Cell at eleven, while Goku at that age was still frolicking in the forest.
Nevertheless, fans still raise a stink about it and the fact that Gohan's daughter Pan cannot become a super saiyan (out of the commonly held/disputed belief that girls can't transform into the state) while Goku Jr. (Pan's grandson) can, only further complicating the matter.
On the other hand, it's GT, it's never common to the manga.
The eponymous power-granting brain parasite of Baoh the Visitor was artificially evolved through the use of a serum that causes Lamarckian evolution. Animals injected with the stuff are deliberately placed in extremely harsh environments, adapt to them, and pass on their adaptations to their offspring, then the next generation is injected and the cycle repeated until something interesting and weapon-ish is produced, leading to the Baoh worm and other rather random creations.
In Historie, Eumenes is not only naturally intelligent, but he also inherited his natural fighting abilities from his true, Scythian parents.
Rurouni Kenshin: We never get to see it in the manga, but according to the author, Kenshin's son, Kenji, masters the Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryū style of kendo all by himself, without having ever seen it and figuring it out from mere descriptions, because his father refuses to pass it down to him. (On the other hand, Kenshin was a genius swordsman who mastered his school of swordplay except for the two ultimate techniques at the tender age of 15, and again according to the Word of God Kaoru's ability would, in real life, put her on par with the nation's best kendo masters, so it's possible that this is more of a case of In the Blood.)
Lately though its looking like Negi takes after his mother a lot more than he does his father: although he isn't Tsundere (yet), but they both stress out, overthink things and wants to do everything themselves and not involve others.
...and then there is Chao who might be playing with this trope (how directly though hasn't been seen yet).
Pokémon Special: This is actually Gold's special ability. He can pass his will to an unhatched Pokémon. His Togepi turned out to be a avid gambler with a violent temper because its owner carried its egg around arcades and dreamed about it beating the crap out of Silver. His Pichu also turned out to be super-powerful and brave because he wanted to protect it and prove himself worthy of being a Dex Holder.
Ruby inherited his Gym Leader father's Pokemon battling skills (though they both say that Norman spent years drilling and training his son to hone his raw potential)
In Pokémon, it's been shown that Pokémon can see and hear through their eggs.
Bleach: Shinigami are spirits and humans are very much alive. Nevertheless, Ichigo is a shinigami because his father is one. And Isshin can also use Ichigo's signature Getsuga Tenshou technique, too. On top of that, the Thousand Year Blood War arc reveals that Ichigo possesses developing Quincy powers because his mother Masaki was a Quincy herself and his hollow is implied to be at least linked to the one that attacked his mother.
A manga only story arc of Ranma ˝ introduces the Musk Dynasty, who use magic to bring about this precise effect. Generations ago, the Musk's ancestors wanted to become the greatest masters of the various "Animal Styles" of Kung Fu. So they settled in a valley near Jusenkyô, captured animals, cursing them in the Spring of Drowned Girl, locking them in that form, and having kids with them to pass the animal traits on to the children. It seems to have worked; Herb, a dragon-blooded, is an incredibly powerful ki user, the tiger-blooded Lime is a Mighty Glacier and wolf-blooded Mint is a Fragile Speedster.
In Basilisk is frequently implied that ninja powers are transmitted within a family line. For example, Shogen's little brother is almost identical to him even in abilities, while at one point Danjo mentions that Gennosuke inherited his Magical Eyes from his mother's family line.
In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Joseph was born with the ability to instinctively use the Ripple technique that his grandfather Jonathan had mastered, but without finesse or battle reliability of his ancestor. While Joseph's father George inherited no aptitude for the Ripple from Jonathan, Joseph's mother was trained in its use.
Lupin III: The Lupin dynasty. Arsčne the First is the archetypical Gentleman Thief with all that that implies. Flashbacks show that his son, Lupin II, was awesome as well. Lupin III, himself, is a Crouching Moron, Hidden BadassKaitou. It continues in his illegitimate son (manga-Lupin only), who is incredibly cunning; he was able to outsmart Fujiko and hold his own against a sword while armed with only a wrench. Any attempts made by the police to capture these criminals tend to fail, usually embarrassingly.
Aria the Scarlet Ammo: Averted, in the case of two of the characters. Supposedly, both Aria and Riko are deficient versions of their great-grandfathers. Aria is unable to solve cases with the Holmes deductive skills, and Riko is not as impressive a thief as a Lupin should be.
Each new generation of slivers evolves to assimilate the strengths of the prey upon which their progenitors fed.
Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, had a daughter called Jade, who naturally had all the powers of his ring, and occasionally her mother's plant powers as well. He also has a son who has darkness-related powers, which are explained as Alan having been exposed to "Shadowlands energy" during a fight with a demon.
Man-Bat gained bat-themed powers artificially but his daughter inherited them. When consulted about this, Batman was skeptical, and explicitly said that acquired characteristics can't be inherited (despite the number of times that exactly that has happened in the DCU).
The "Battle For The Cowl" miniseries/crossover began to fix that. Another villain points out to Langstrom that it's impossible for a mix of common chemicals to have that effect, that the formula was a psychological crutch for the activation of Langstrom's innate super-powers. Indeed, in that same issue he transforms without the formula and kept control (to a degree). Apparently it depends on the writer; Talia al-Ghul steals the formula a year later and use it create an army of ninja Man-Bats.
A mainstay of the Marvel Universe, where everything from Spider-Man's radioactive spider bite to the Fantastic Four's cosmic ray exposure can be inherited. Generally, it's revealed that the various doses of radiation did change their DNA, so the offspring of Freak Lab Accident Silver Agers can officially be called Mutants.
The official Marvel parlance is Mutants for X-gene variations on the human template, and mutates for those like Spider-Man who've been mutated by some external factor. How the public magically tells the difference is another question altogether.
Two Flashes — Wally West and Barry Allen — have had children, and in both cases the children have inherited the speed powers. It's a Speed Force thing, or something. It's even bred true to both of Barry's grandkids.
Indeed, Barry Allen's grandson's half-brother also has speed powers, although neither of his parents ever did. Also, as the son of Captain Boomerang, he's inherited his father's knack for using boomerangs as offensive weapons. And as of Blackest Night, his father's terrible decision-making skills.
On the other hand, Owen and Bart's mother, Meloni Thawne, is a descendant of Barry's twin brother, Malcolm Thawne, as was Eobard Thawne, AKA Professor Zoom, which suggests that the Barry Allen bloodline has a genetic predisposition toward speed, rather than a Lamarkian outgrowth from Barry's.
Which can further be explained by the fact that Barry Allen might have been the creator of the Speed Force, and so anybody else in his bloodline will have a higher chance of inheriting speed based powers. Barry's powers themselves are an ontological paradox, as it's been stated in the comics that he went back in time, turned into a bolt of energy, and struck the chemicals which gave him superspeed.
Double Subversion with Wildcat II, the son of Wildcat. Wildcat is a superb fighter with no other powers. His son isn't so great at it. On the other hand, after the father spent a lifetime of dressing up in a cat suit, the son can turn into a Catboy. As it turns out, his powers really are inherited - his mother was a werepanther, so it's just an amusing coincidence that his power connected with his old man's gimmick.
Scarlet and Sheena Hellpop inherited their father's fusionkasting powers, even though his abilities were given him by the Merk, and were also periodically taken away.
The Zenith series in 2000 AD relied on this. The main strand of superhumans in the story were able to pass on their superpowers to their offspring. Their powers originated in a wartime experiment where pregnant women were injected with ergot alkaloids. The resulting children's superpowers were mentally derived, you see, and kicked in when the children hit puberty.
The character Doomsday was created deliberately through a brutal process of Lamarckian evolution.
Alternatively, given the vast number of mutations that occur within individual cells in the human body, the researchers could have simply been playing a genetic lottery each successive cloning generation.
The children of characters in the Marvel Universe having similar powers are usually explained as "mutants" of some kind due to their progenitors' exposure to the weird. For example, Spider-Girl is the daughter of Spider-Man, even though his powers came from an outside source when he was in his teens. So too is Franklin Richards; both his parents were altered by cosmic rays and became empowered. However, taking the cake is probably Rachel Summers, daughter of Jean Grey, who was a mutant of impressive power and a wielder of the Phoenix Force. While it now makes sense, sort of, when she was first introduced, the Phoenix Force was a power that came to beings and could even leave them, as opposed to being a permanent change. Somehow, Rachel inherited that. Being the White Phoenix is kind of Jean Grey's mutation now, but not quite, so it almost makes sense, but somehow falls short. Apparently the Phoenix (which is a sentient entity in its own right) just likes fusing with members of the Grey-Summers lines.
It probably has something to do with the sheer power of the Phoenix Force. It can't inhabit most people, but it can inhabit Jean Grey due to her insane level of psionic power. And, as was made obvious by Sinister for like the last fifty years, all the children of Scott and Jean tend to inherit their mother's power and then some.
In Spider-Man's case, the bite changed him on a genetic level, so it would make sense for any children of his to inherit his powers. And to be fair, Spider-Girl's powers aren't an exact copy of Peter's, there's a major difference in how their wall-crawling powers work.
Kara Killgrave (a.k.a. Purple Girl, Persuasion, Purple Woman), the daughter of the Purple Man, is another case, as she developed the exact same powers as her father, right down to his purple skin. That's despite the fact that he was hit by a rapidly-escaping nerve gas.
For some reason, Franklin and Persuasion are considered mutants, but Spider-Girl isn't (once, to a Sentinel, she read as anomalous but not an X-Men-style Mutant.)
Marvel character Scorpion (Carmilla Black) was designed based on the original plan that she was the daughter of Viper (Madame Hydra). To show she was Viper's daughter they gave her naturally green hair — which would only be possible if hair dye is hereditary. Granted, they ended up with Monica Rappaccini (AIM Leader) as her mother.
Speaking of Dr. Banner, he's had three children post-Hulk. His daughter Lyra has green skin and some super-strength, but averts the trope because she was created via genetic engineering. His son Skaar is able to become a Hulk himself, while his twin Hiro-Kala appears to have inherited nothing of the Hulk (implying they're likely fraternal twins).
Captain America received his powers (physical attributes at the absolute peak of human perfection) from a shot of the Super Soldier Serum; after that the serum was tested on black soldiers, and of the initial test subjects, only Isiah Bradley survived, gaining the peak physicality. Bradley's son, Josiah, inherited the Super Soldier Serum effects from his father. He uses the name Josiah X in his hero career. Bradley's grandson, Elijah Bradley, gets seriously injured when the Skrulls attack New York, and after a blood transfusion from his grandfather, gained the traits of Captain America. This is somewhat better than the standard explanation.
In the Ultimateverse, Cap's son inherits superpowers. The son, however, appears to be better with them than Cap ever was, mostly because of training from a young age.
While not really offspring, The Joker "Jokerizes" scores of supervillains in The Last Laugh storyline. He does this via an Evil Plan that infuses everyone with his DNA, turning their skin white, hair green and giving them Joker's sense of humor and making them loyal to him. How this works when the Joker's skin and hair color is not due to any sort of genetics but his skin and hair being permanently bleached from (in the usual backstories) falling into a vat of chemicals is not explained.
For that matter, how does being "loyal to him" qualify as one of the traits in Joker's DNA? He's chaos embodied, the polar opposite of loyalty.
Similarly, a Batman vs Aliens comic featured a mad scientist infusing xenomorphs with the DNA of Batman's villains. Not only did one of them develop white skin and red lips, another developed scarring on the left side of its head (as per Two-Face) and a third somehow acquired the colouring of Scarecrow's costume.
Avengers Academy character Finesse has the same powers as Taskmaster, who gained them by special serum, and it's implied she might be his daughter. When the two of them meet, she directly asks him about it, only for it to turn out that a drawback of his powers is loss of his non-combat related memories, so he has no damn idea.
What If? v2 #114 had the heroes getting trapped in Battleworld after the events of Secret Wars, settling down and having children. All the kids have combinations of their parents' powers and traits; Captain America and Roguenote With Ms. Marvel's personality having taken over have a daughter who has strength, flight, and is a natural leader, while Human Torch and Wasp's son has Hot Wings and fire projection (but only when he's shrunk) and is a smartass.
Films — Live-Action
In A History of Violence, Viggo Mortensen's character Tom Stall has the titular violent history along with wicked underhanded fighting skills. After his abilities are outed, his previously passive and somewhat defensively-snarky son (who had up to this point been in a healthy and loving environment, in which Tom preached self-control) went off like a claymore mine on a bully, beating him down with surprising savagery. However, it is mostly the surprise that won him the fight; the temper may have been his father's (such things may be inherited), and he showed no real technique, so this is a borderline example.
Likewise, in August Rush, the titular character is a musical prodigy whose biological parents were both musicians. Now, musical aptitude can be inherited. Not prodigy-level, but...
Lampshaded in Sky High, with a lecture on superhero genetics given by the school nurse.
He does swing every bit as well as the monkeys in the jungle around him...
In The Legend of Zorro, Don Alejandro de la Vega's son, Joaquin, seems to have inherited his father's taste for social justice and swordfighting skills despite the fact that he has no idea his father is actually Zorro.
Somewhat related instance in Alien: Resurrection, where centuries after the third movie, scientists clone Ripley, complete with the parasite infecting her when she died. However, the failed clones make it evident that the Xenomorphs invade their hosts at a genetic level which was already implied in the last movie. Bonus points for the Xenomorphs' "genetic memory" which allows Ripley to remember her past life, though she does suffer from autism and other problems. Considering that the screenwriter was instructed to include Ripley's character in the film, this all comes off as remarkably plausible for a science-fiction action movie.
The Boondock Saints: The brothers are extremely skilled at using firearms; but no mention is made of them having formal or informal military/firearms training. Their father is just as gun-crazy and vigilante-minded; but spent the entirety of his sons' lives in jail. It is lampshaded in the second movie, when the Big Bad comes right out and states that killing runs in their blood.
While it is never explicitly stated that the McManus brothers have had any specialized training; the first movie hints strongly that they were given some sort of training at their mother's insistence (this is explicitly stated regarding their polyglotism), as well as hinting strongly at ties to Irish Republican organizations. The second movie does invoke this trope, but it's a fairly weak example in context.
In Pandorum, the colonists were injected with mutagens designed to make them undergo "accelerated evolution". Unfortunately it caused those who woke up first (or maybe their descendants) to become albino cannibals.
The head art designer for Star Trek (2009) came up with the explanation for the Romulans' V-shaped forehead ridges that they were originally formed by raised scar tissue from ritualistic cutting, and its prevalence caused it to eventually become a naturally occurring genetic trait. Which is akin to claiming that if you have a family line where everyone cuts off their left pinky finger, after enough generations they will start having babies which are born without that finger.
One Cherokee creation myth states that originally, all the world's deer lived in a single cave. When a boy who wanted to hunt them unsealed the cave, they all ran out. The boy quickly shot them all as they fled, but they survived and he only managed to hit them in their anuses, because they were running away. As a result, they lifted their tails up. Supposedly, this is why deer keep their tails pointed up to this day.
A European folktale says that the reason dogs have wet noses is that the two dogs on Noah's Ark spent the Great Flood with their noses sticking out in the rain.
There are similar tales on why bears have short tails (ice fishing with their tails, getting most of it bitten off by a pike/frozen off by the cold water) and why elephants have trunks (getting too close to a crocodile who grabbed his nose and ended up stretching it before the elephant struggled free).
Similarly, the tale of Loki's final capture and binding until Ragnarok told of how he tried to escape the Aesir's wrath by turning into a salmon and swimming away. Thor caught him by the tail, squeezing with godlike strength. This is the Norse explanation for salmon having pointed tails.
There are countless tales that explain how a certain animal became what it is, all via artificial means. Be it a certain color they received via paint being dropped on them (like one bird which is very colorful, supposedly cause God was running out of paint and used a bit of everything on the last bird), body "deformations" due to mechanical force (like the elephant example above), losing body parts due to them being chopped off, or behaviors which are supposedly due to past experiences (e.g. the reason all birds are hostile towards owls is supposed to be because the owl messed something up in one folklore, so it seems even grudges get inherited.)
Siamese cats supposedly have kinked tails because their ancestors used to hold the rings of their ancient Siamese princess owners on their tails while the women would bathe, and the cats would then helpfully curve the tails to hold the jewellery better.
From The Bible there are multiple examples from the "Book of Genesis":
Though never stated in the Bible, it's Common Knowledge that women have more ribs than men, because Adam gave up one to create Eve.
Likewise, the idea that men have an Adam's apple because a piece of the Forbidden Fruit got stuck in Adam's throat is neither Biblical nor, presumably, accurate.
The snake which God cursed for having caused Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, dooming it to "crawl on its belly for the rest of its days" (implying it moved some other way before).
Jacob bred goats in front of certain trees in the belief their offspring would acquire those trees' colors, which is really stretching things unless you assume God was pulling strings for him.
According to Japanese folklore, a sleeping cat once had its tail catch on fire, and it ran, panicked through a city, burning the entire place to the ground. Henceforth, the emperor himself declared that all cats have their tails docked short, explaining why the Japanese bobtail breed has a short tail.
According to Greek myth, the reason Athenian boys have small, lean buttocks is because when Heracles rescued Theseus from the Underworld, Theseus had to tear strips of his buttocks away to escape a trap bench.
Prior to the 19th century, it was widely believed that "maternal impression" could alter a resulting child's form. E.g., the Elephant Man supposedly got his appearance due to his mother being attacked by an elephant while pregnant with him.
Soul Music: Susan Sto Helit is Death's granddaughter, and has much of his power. The problem is, Susan's mother was Death's adopted daughter; her father was Death's apprentice (who came pretty damn close to becoming death). She also has a mark on her cheek that resembles the mark her father got when he was slapped by Death. Susan lampshades this by repeatedly pointing out genetics does not work that way. The series itself, meanwhile, has noted that on the Disc, not all heredity is genetic.
Conina from Sourcery. She is the daughter of Cohen the Barbarian — and frustrated by her constant urges to dress in skimpy animal skins and beat the crap out of everyone that looks at her the wrong way. She's also inherited his Charles Atlas Superpower. Like the above though Cohen's status in the disk is mythical and that tends to overrule reality in the disk.
The passing of skills along family lines is explained within the religious underpinnings of Nancy Farmer's The Ear, the Eye and the Arm: The spirits of your ancestors actually hung around the family, and if they took a liking to a kid, they'd pass down their own skills. Hence, if little Jimmy winds up with unbelievable skills at piloting a fighter plane, it's not so much because he's genetically related to great-great-grand-uncle George (the ace fighter pilot), but because George's spirit stuck around after death, and kinda melded with Jimmy to grant him George's original powers.
In Harry Potter, Harry instantly becomes a talented Seeker despite never having played or even seen anyone play before. The characters explain this by saying that James was an incredible flyer as well. The problem here stems from the fact that it is said that Harry got his good eyesight for locating the snitch from his father. The same Harry that wears glasses which shows just how strange genetics can be: Harry has Myopia, but could easily have excellent vision by other standards, such as colour, depth and motion perception.
The most useless case of Lamarckian evolution used in fiction: messy hair.
In the Shannara book series, the Ohmsford family begins to have innate magic starting with the children of Wil Ohmsford. Justified in-story: Wil's use of the magical elfstones was problematic, as he wasn't "elf" enough, and permanently left a trace of magic within him.
In the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, the man-ape Moon-Watcher being made intelligent by the monolith is described thus: "The very atoms of his simple brain were being twisted into new patterns. If he survived, those patterns would become eternal, for his genes would pass them on to future generations." If the monolith wanted the patterns passed on, it should have been doing the twisting a bit lower down...
Rudyard Kipling evidently believed in Lamarckian evolution. In "Kaa's Hunting" Mowgli is able to show the monkeys his skill at weaving sticks together because he is a woodcutter's son, while in "Red Dog" he cuts off the leading red dog's tail and then taunts him by telling him "There will now be many litters of little tailless red dogs, yea, with raw red stumps that sting when the sand is hot." (Since a wolf ends up killing him anyway this theory is never put to the test).
All of the Just So Stories are pure Lamarck, justified a bit in that they are meant to be creation myths after all. Well, except how the camel got his humph but that's another tale.
Tarzan's son inherited his father's highly trained strength, reflexes, and ability to understand animals (particularly apes). Despite growing up on the estate of an English nobleman instead of in a savage jungle, Lord Greystoke himself is perplexed as to how his son could have inherited all that when he hadn't even told him about his upringing as an ape.
In Frankenstein Frankenstein destroys the "bride" he created for the monster because he fears what might happen if they reproduced. Frankenstein was written before either Lamarck's or Darwin's theories were proposed. In short, Science Marches On.
In Fred Saberhagen's The Frankenstein Papers, the greedy plantation-owner funding Frankenstein's research expects the trope to hold. He expects his creations will breed a new race of super-strong laborers to work as slaves on their Caribbean properties. No such luck.
In Agatha Christie's short story "The Cretan Bull" in her collection The Labors of Hercules, Hercule Poirot solves a mystery by determining that the character Colonel Frobisher was really the father of Hugh Chandler. He did this due to the biological fact that Hugh inherited Frobisher's habit of "drawing down his brows over his eyes and lowering his head, thrusting it forward, while those same shrewd little eyes studied you piercingly." No word which chromosome this habit comes from.
Runs rampant in the 4th book of Twilight. Try not to think about it too hard.
In the story Bisclavret from the Lais of Marie de France, a werewolf bites off a woman's nose and all of her descendants are born without noses because of that.
Justified in the SF short story The Engineer and the Executioner, about a genetic experiment in a hollowed-out asteroid (which is actually called Lamarck), as the colony used in the experiment was actually designed to use Lamarckian evolution (which, in the story, turns out to be astonishingly rapid).
Oddly abused in Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians YA novels, where superhuman powers, called "Talents," seem to come from having the last name "Smedry". Al's mother acquires the ability to "lose things" by marrying Mr. Smedry, and an escape is engineered at one point by Alcatraz performing a marriage between a Smedry and a good librarian. This passes his ability to Dance Badly.
The novelization of ''A New Hope'' averts this. Ben comments that like his father, Luke is an excellent pilot, then goes on to say that "[p]iloting skill isn't hereditary, but many of the aptitudes that produce a good small-ship pilot are." It's also established that Luke's spent a lot of time practicing high-speed low-altitude high-precision flying.
In Stephen King's Firestarter, a couple gains Psychic Powers (Mind Control and Telekinesis, respectively) from a drug given to them in an experiment. Their daughter is born with telekinesis and pyrokinesis as a result. This is Hand Waved when the father speculates that the drug must have affected their DNA. King mentioned afterwards that he never liked that explanation, preferring stories where supernatural things just happen, and are never explained.
In Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, "allomancers" - who have the ability to ingest metal and use it to fuel magical abilities, inherit their powers from their ancestors. It tips into Lamarckian territory when it turns out the original allomancers got their powers from eating a nugget of magic metal, rather than being born with the gift.
Not true! Alendi was a Seeker (someone who could burn Bronze) way before anyone ate a magic nugget. Allomancers were just much rarer prior to that.
Also, Word of God has said that said nuggets basically rewrite a person's "spiritual DNA" so it makes sense that it get's passed on.
Gene Stratton-Porter's 1904 novel Freckles is based entirely around this conceit. The hero, raised since infancy in a Chicago orphanage, speaks with an Irish accent because his parents were Irish; speaks, in fact, with an upper-class Irish accent, because he had "an ancestor who used cultivated English". He is musically gifted, able with no training to sing "with wonderful accent and ease", and this is credited to the assumption that he has "a marvelously trained vocalist" in his "close blood". Even his manners are inherited:
"Mr. Mc Lean says that you never once have failed in tact and courtesy. He says that you are the most perfect gentleman he ever knew, and he has traveled the world over. How does it happen, Freckles? No one at that Home taught you. Hundreds of men couldn't be taught, even in a school of etiquette; so it must be instinctive with you. If it is, why, that means that it is born in you, and a direct inheritance from a race of men that have been gentlemen for ages, and couldn't be anything else."
Legacy of the Dragokin: Benji says something along the lines of 'dragokin powers activate!' frequently because he believes he inherited them from his mother. Double subverted as they were latent and awakened in the climax. Not only does Benji inherit dragokin powers but the skill to use them.
In Angel, Connor inherits all the advantages of his vampire parents without actually being a vampire. The reason for this is explained in "The Trial".
In a season two episode of Babylon 5, it is revealed that the PsiCorps have developed a treatment that turns telepaths into empaths, and that they want to subject Talia to the treatment and then have her get with the other empath to make lots of empath babies, proving that they are not only evil, they also Fail Biology Forever.
The commercials for Birds of Prey made a great deal out of the idea that the daughter of Batman and Catwoman would have inherited her father's drive to fight crime and her mother's drive to commit it.
On The Mentalist, an internal affairs officer tells Lawful GoodFair Cop Rigsby it's not his fault if he's prone to crime, since his father was a biker, and evidence suggests criminality could run in the family. He is not happy. Also subverted in that everybody on the team is seen to be very different from their parents (who include the aforementioned biker, an abusive drunk, and a particularly nasty conman).
Played with in Psych where Gus (wrongly) believes that he can handle spicy (Indian) food because he's 1/4 Jamaican.
In Charmed, exceptionally virtuous people are brought back to life as Whitelighters after death—and yet their children inherit their powers no matter what their moral alignment.
Even stranger: in the Comic Book Adaptation (in Canon and set after the show), Leo and Piper's third child, Melinda, has Whitelighter powers, even though Leo has been Brought Down to Normal by the time she was conceived. Another Whitelighter claims that after sixty years, the magic got encoded in his DNA.
Their differences from base-line humanity are magical, not biological, though.
According to Draconomicon, dragons can pass on some of what they learn to their offspring. It's a handy way of ensuring they're Always Chaotic Evil.
In keeping with Gothic fiction, powerful curses in the Ravenloft setting can be passed down from one generation to the next, deserved or not. This may say more about the Dark Powers' jerkass tendencies than about Lamarckism, however.
In GURPS 3rd Edition Steampunk sourcebook, optional rules are given if you want to play in a gameworld where Lamarckian evolution is correct, allowing high-skill parents to give exceptional talents to their offspring.
The Dragonbloods in Exalted benefit greatly from Lamarck being right, as do some mortals to a lesser extent. It stands out as being one of the few settings to have a god of Lamarck being right: Parad, the Left Hand of Power and God of Inherited Might.
This is shown by even having a background (merit trait) called "Breeding" which details the purity of blood and the elemental connection your parents possessed that you inherited.
Probably most prominent in the case of the children of powerful celestial exalted, given that the celestial's exaltations themselves are completely non-hereditary.
The Archeans, human-analogs from the Talislanta game, are descended from Beast Folk who'd used magic to eliminate their more animalistic traits.
One of the sources for many bloodlines for the Sorcerer character class in Pathfinder, aside from the old-fashioned way. This is the explanation for the Arcane (standard) and Maestro bloodlines, among others. Also makes the Undead bloodline a lot less Squicky.
The gene-splicers of Rifts can not only alter the DNA of a person in a myraid of ways, they can also add new traits by "splicing" in DNA from another creature (to give a person wings, for example). Where this trope comes into play is that they are so skilled at genetic manipulation, they can even decide whether or not the children of a "spliced" individual has his altered traits or not.
Played straight in Phantasy Star III where at the end of each chapter, the main character can marry one of two girls. The kid will inherit the skills of his parents (including the capability of using magic) and some physical traits, including hair color.
Solid Snake of the Metal Gear series inherited, among other things, near-inhuman combat abilities and love of cardboard boxes from his "father" Big Boss, at least superficially. In practice, he had the "least perfect" genes of all his brothers and yet beat them due to his own combat experience. The genes only allowed him to be physically capable of being a good soldier, and it was still up to him whether he was and how good of one he was. After all, one of the main themes of Metal Gear is Nature Vs Nurture, and since he beat his genetically superior brothers, its pretty obvious which side of the debate the game takes. Metal Gear Solid even featured "Genome Soldiers" that were augmented by "gene therapy" with Big Boss's "soldier genes" in an effort to create elite soldiers without military training. It didn't work.
Romancing SaGa 2 had a system of inheriting the previous Emperor's abilities. Justified with magic, though.
This is one of the main reasons for breeding in Pokémon. The offspring will inherit certain moves from the father (and from Generation VI onwards the mother as well), and a lengthy "breeding chain" can be set up to get unique moves for Pokémon that wouldn't learn then normally.
Apollo, Trucy, and Thalassa, who evidently inherited Magnifi's ability to tell when people are tensing up in very subtle ways. They need a bracelet made of Applied Phlebotinum for its full effect, though.
To a smaller degree, Franziska von Karma's inherited both her father Manfred von Karma's prosecuting skills and his ability to get shot in the shoulder.
Maya, Mia, Misty and Pearl Fey have all inherited Ami Fey's potential and ability to channel the spirits of the dead. Morgan Fey and her two other daughters, however, only got traces of it, which is a driving force behind a huge portion of the plot of the second and third games.
The Sonic the Hedgehog series' Chao (introduced in Sonic Adventure) work a little bit like this. Two Chao born as completely blank slates with randomized stat grades (indicating how well they're going to progress when that stat levels up) can raise their stats through work and raise a stat's grade. If you breed them together, the child will inherit stat grades from one parent or the other and can inherit the improved grade rather than the original. Also its actual stats may be affected by its parents', I believe.
In Fire Emblem - Geneology of the Holy War (an untranslated Japan-only game for the SNES, which received an excellent Fan Translation... even if it isn't quite finished), the characters in the second generation (if their mother was paired up with someone) have their skills/stats/stat growths influenced by their parents. The Character Tiers take this into account.
In the games (in general), it's normally said that only certain bloodlines can use certain weapons. Examples include: the Falchion (FE1/FE3/Shadow Dragon/Awakening); Aum Staff (FE 3/Shadow Dragon) and all of the holy weapons (Genealogy of the Holy War).
Funnily enough, it's zigzagged in the Elibe saga; in The Blazing Blade, only Eliwood (descended from Roland) can wield Durandal and only Hector (implied to be Durban's descendant) can wield Armads. But Lyn and Hector are also descended from Roland, and neither of them can wield Durandal. And in The Sword of Seals, anyone skilled enough in swords or axes can wield Durandal or Armads respectively, and Roy (who is not descended from Hartmut) can wield the Sword of Seals. But nobody except Hartmut's descendants (read: Zephiel) can wield Eckeseax.
In Fire Emblem Awakening, the children units that can be recruited after a certain point in the story will inherit two of their parents' skills (one from each parent), and their stats will also be affected depending on who their parents are.
The Final Fantasy VII chocobo breeding sidequest relied partly on the birds' rankings in the chocobo racing minigame to produce Green, Blue, Black, and Gold chocobos with special powers.
The asari from Mass Effect have an element of this. Essentially, because of the way their reproductive system works, it's theorised that the child develops traits that the "mother" really likes about the "father". It's not treated as fact, but more like a popular belief. Given the limited examples, however, the theory seems somewhat supported (though far from proven).
In the third game, Liara's asari father tells her that her grandfather was a krogan, so it's perfectly understandable if she wants to head-butt somebody.
However Matriarch Aethyta also lampshades the fact that, truthfully, no-one really knows how it works.
Like humans, asari can have long-term attachments to partners or come away pregnant from a single joining, which need not be sexual. The single example of an asari most clearly taking after a non-asari parent was a long-term thing, and her father stayed around and told her stories, making it a Nature Versus Nurture thing.
Minecraft takes this to extremes with livestock breeding. Sheep are usually white, but other natural colors include black, gray, brown, and (rarely) pink. However, sheep can be dyed any color of the rainbow, and this color is passed onto offspring. This feature was implemented by popular request, since blue dye is made from lapis lazuli, a mineral found deep underground, only slightly more common than diamonds.
Infinity Blade is this trope distilled into a video game. In it, the hero must defeat the evil God King, but will inevitably fail. No worries though, as his offspring inherits all XP and equipment from him, allowing the player to become stronger with each new generation.
In The Sims 3, parents can pass on their traits to their children. Also, since all hair/eye/skin colors are now equally dominant (opposed to following the basic Punnett model of dominant and recessive that was in its predecessor), you could easily have a child with Dad's blue skin and Mom's pink hair with orange highlights.
In The Sims 2, Servos would have all the skills and talent badges of their creator (including the gold robotics talent badge required to build a Servo in the first place). Plant-sim babies that are "spawned" independently instead of conceived by Woo Hoo likewise inherit the skills and talent badges of their parent.
In Tsukihime, this is heavily suggested to be the source of Shiki Tohno's rather situational combat skills. His birth family, the Nanayas, were a clan of demon-slayers. However, Shiki was taken from them when he was no older than six, so it seems strange that he has such excellent hand-to-hand combat skills when he's never trained and, notably, didn't even know he had them himself. The Nanaya clan also placed a heavy emphasis on selective breeding to produce superior demon-slayers, further suggesting this trope.
Web prose series Star Harbor Nights has characters inheriting their parents' acquired as well as inborn mutations. Gleefully but obscurely lampshaded by the name of a mutation-inducing drug, Lysenkol... named for Lysenko, a Soviet scientist who believed in the inheritance of acquired traits.
The Global Guardians PBEM Universe is an "unlimited source" setting, where superpowers can be gained through any possible way that can be imagined. Nevertheless, and regardless of what real-world genetic science says, its guaranteed that the child of two superhumans will have either the same powers as one of their parents, or a mix between the two. (Children with only one superhuman parent tend to have a 50/50 chance of getting either the same powers as their parents, or else no powers at all.) People who get their powers from technology don't count.
Something like this is going on in the Whateley Universe. Getting mutant powers is really really rare. But superheroes and supervillains seem to have insanely high odds of having kids with powers too. What, does using your powers a ton make them pop up in your kids?
Superpowers are explicitly a combination of genetic and environmental factors, super heroics probably come under environmental.
According to Word of God, the "mutant gene complex" is actually fairly common in the human population of Whateley Earth (about one in seven). It's that complex becoming active (usually at puberty) that's normally quite rare. Depending on how said complex gets passed on and what exactly triggers it, the chances of two "live" mutants who by definition both have it in their DNA themselves producing more mutant offspring could thus plausibly be quite high (non-mutant supers, however, are on their own).
Grandchildren of people who had lived through famine were less likely to catch diabetes. Mice exposed to enriched learning environments had offspring with improved memory This apparent Lamarckian inheritance is the third creepiest thing hiding in your DNA according to Cracked. This article also mentions endogenous retroviruses (see Real Life below).
This idea is tossed around a bit in Avatar: The Last Airbender. If at least one of the parents is a bender, there's a good chance the child they have will also be a bender. That's not including combinations from different tribes and what not.
The way it's supposed to work is that while what element you are able to bend is genetic (and how much potential you have), whether or not you can bend at all is "spiritual" which seems to mean "random." Thus why the Fire Nation could wipe out all the waterbenders of the Southern Water Tribe and have a waterbender born two generations later (Katara), and why two powerful benders can have a non-bending child (Piandao). This despite it being revealed that bending was initially given by the lion turtles through energybending. "Unique" bending abilities, such as the ability to "see" through the earth and moonless bloodbending can also be inherited.
In the latter example it is shown that while the two boys had the capability their father trained them ruthlessly and vigorously so they would learn in a few years what took him decades to do
Curiously enough the ability to "see" with the earth doesn't seem to be a matter of genetics but more spiritual training: Toph, the first known earth bender to "see" with bending learnt from Badger Moles, 'the first earth benders'. She taught Aang and later her daughter how to do the same. In the same way Dragons, Sky Bison and the Moon can teach those with an aptitude how to bend their element (as explained by Aang and Zuko)
All Air Nomads are airbenders, though. It has been theorized this is due to their high spirituality.
Subverted by Clone High, in which absolutely none of the clones have anything in common with their progenitors except for their appearance (and that can be somewhat dubious; for instance, Cleopatra was not a beautiful native Egyptian, but descended from Greek rulers). The only one who even vaguely resembles their progenitor is JFK, who acts like a caricature of the actual Kennedy, due to a combination of insecurity over his masculinity due to his gay foster parents, and his belief that that's how the actual JFK acted.
Outright spoofed with Gandhi, who acts exactly how you wouldn't expect a clone of Mohandas Gandhi to behave; he's a loud, obnoxious, dim-witted skirt-chaser. Still non-violent, though. Sometimes.
Gandhi: If there's one thing Mahatma Gandhi stands for, it's REVENGE!
Many of the minor clones really do act like their predecessors, though. This is mostly done for a quick gag (i.e., George Washington Carver's clone has somehow genetically engineered a talking peanut).
Famous 5: On The Case, the Disney cartoon based loosely on The Famous Five, plays this straight with the children of the original Five. Both boys have sons, both girls have daughters. Julian and his son Max are both action leaders, Dick and Dylan are both smart guys, George and Jo are tomboys, Allie and Anne are girly girls. And, well, Timmy Jr is still a dog, but that one's justified.
Toyed with in an episode of The Critic, where Jay (a portly film critic who is adopted) finds who he thinks is his birth mother.
Jay: Who was my father?
Doris: I'm not sure. It was either John F. Kennedy, or some fat guy who always went to movies and complained about them.
On Rocko's Modern Life, Dr. Hutchson (a cat) lays an egg after marrying Philbert (a turtle) and leaves it in his care while she goes to work. Philbert has his friend Heffer (a steer) sit on the egg to keep it warm. It eventually hatches into four kids, one of whom looks like Heffer.
On Family Guy, when (paraplegic) Joe and Bonnie's daughter is finally born, its wheelchair comes out of the womb first. She is not paraplegic though.
A 1942 MGM cartoon called Chips Off the Old Block has a beat-up old tomcat named Butch find a litter of Doorstop Kittens that he tries to hide from his mistress. He's obviously the father because they all have the same coloring as he does... and the same chewed-up ear(!).
As mentioned above, recently, it's been discovered that some acquired changes can be inherited, albeit in a weaker, more general, less permanent, and (probably) less important form. The study of this is called epigenetics. Chemical changes to the DNA can help inactivate or activate parts of it — and because it's still DNA, these can be passed on. For instance, malnutrition might mean that your DNA doesn't methylate properly while you're growing up, and conditions in the womb can affect development of the fetus, which can pass on some information about the mother's environment — how much food is available, and so on — to the child. Science Marches On. note Technically epigenetics is the study of DNA being turned on and off in general, something that happens all the time in a living organism. What's recent is the discovery that these normally short-lived changes can sometimes last long enough to be inherited.
Experiments in rats have shown that cross-fostered pups of mothers who exhibit attentive parental care (licking and grooming behaviors, in particular) end up, through the action of acetylation and methylation, having less of an "anxious" response to stressors. When these rats become mothers themselves, they exhibit the same sort of parental behavior towards their pups, so it is a continuing cycle — independent of genotype, the maternal attention is propagated to the next generation and so on.
Studies of microbiomes (basically, bacteria and other microscopic organisms on a human body) and their interactions with human cells are a significant component of how a human body functions in many aspects. The microbiomes that have been accumulated over a woman's lifetime will be at least partly inherited by her child, thus leading to inheritance of at least some acquired traits.
Endosymbiosis is the current prevailing theory on the origin of certain organelles—mainly the mitochondria and chloroplasts—in the cells of eukaryotic (e.g. multicellular) life. The theory is that the organelles were originally entirely separate single celled organisms that were eaten by the eukaryotic cell but not digested properly. When the larger cell divided, so would the organelles, and so they were passed onto descendants without any immediate genetic change. In the course of evolution, most of the organelles' DNA was deleted or outsourced into the nucleus of the host.
Further, the organelles provide an energy source which was not previously available, so it could be argued that the cells were given superpowers by something that they ate, which was then passed on to their descendants.
In the late 1800s, there were several experiments to test Lamarck's theories, including one carried out in Germany that involved cutting off mice's tails to see if their children would be born with shorter, or no, tails.
As Isaac Asimov (or Carl Sagan?) has pointed out: Jewish boys have been circumcised for many generations, but still every Jewish boy is born with a foreskin.
Several percent of human genome is Endogenous retrovirus DNA. One of our ancestors got infected by a retrovirus, which made its way into the said ancestor's germ cells. Bingo! Now his/her children inherit the virus DNA with the parent DNA, until this day. Some of the endogenous retrovirus DNA has since mutated and became junk DNA sensu stricto, but some of those viruses are actually still active and facilitating mutations and evolution, for better or for worse (like helping the embryo implant in the womb, or playing a role in several diseases). It is highly unlikely the original infection was via a spider bite, though, or it would be a rare Lamarckian "Funny Aneurysm" Moment. Gene therapy exploits these viral vectors' ability to integrate themselves into hosts' DNA to make LEGO Genetics possible, in order to cure genetic diseases forever or make Trans HumanDesigner Babies.
Cultural evolution does work like this, as ideas acquired in life (or mutations thereof) can be taught to one's offspring.
Linguistic evolution works like this, too. Two languages from completely different "genetic" backgrounds may end up sharing a number of common features if their populations stay in close contact for long periods of time.
If your parents are 'intelligentsia' or 'politicians' or 'military middle class' you'll usually be expected to be good at the same sort of jobs, and be expected to grow up as one as well.
Before the development of trade schools and formal educations, most jobs were like this; boys were expected to grow up and take their fathers' jobs, especially more mundane positions, like farming, carpentry, and other manual labor jobs. If a boy wanted to learn a trade different from his father's, he would have to become an apprentice to someone else. It was simply easier to become an apprentice to your own father. Younger children might have had more options, though, because they weren't expected to inherit the family business.
Briefly thought to have occured with second-generation phocomelia, a congenital deformity primarily seen in infants whose mothers used thalidomide during pregnancy. Although the damage inflicted on these unborn children was environmental in origin, a small number of phocomeliacs subsequently grew up, married one another, and (rarely) produced phocomeliac children. Further investigation subverted this trope, revealing that children who'd been deformed by thalidomide had already been genetically predisposed to suffer such developmental flaws in response to chemical contaminants, and their second-generation children inherited a double dose of that susceptibility, making them subject to phocomelia even in the absence of thalidomide.
To a certain extent, this is true anyway, though less based upon what your parents did, and more what they needed to do to survive. For example, native-born Koreans don't sweat the same way, because not sweating is a way to survive in cold climates. Likewise tanning skin is likely an adaptation to very sunny climates. The process, however, is reversible over time if the need suddenly no longer exists.
Analysis of adopted Korean War orphans showed a surprising amount of genetic influence over the life of the child. The education level of the adopted parents had a puny effect on the adopted child's education (each year of maternal education translated to a four-week boost to the child) and the adopted parents had no effect at all on the child's adult income.