Was Charles Darwin wrong?

Scientists trained mice to fear a particular chemical that smelt of almonds. Photo: Jens Schierenbeck/DPA

The NHS has been in trouble for most of the year - its failings paraded on the front pages of the newspapers ad nauseam.

Enough. I was the 53rd child born in Manchester after the foundation of the NHS and it has been there throughout my life. Mostly it has done me proud. So I'm not going to knock it in this look back at the year.

Instead I'm going to look at some science - OK, I will keep it simple.

First for me an astonishing research finding. American scientists trained mice to fear a particular chemical that smelt of almonds. They gave the mice an electrical shock at the same time as exposing them to the smell. Eventually, the mice would show fear even without the shock - induced solely by the smell of the chemical. So far nothing unusual.

Here's the amazing part. The mice passed on their fear to their offspring - and to their offspring's offspring. Their granddaughters and grandsons had acquired the fear - in effect, they had inherited it genetically.

Charles Darwin established a theory of evolution for the first time. Credit: PA

But any biologist trained on the last century knows that can't happen. The inheritance of acquired characteristics (TIOAC) is totally forbidden by Darwin's doctrine of survival of the fittest (though in his later writing Darwin went a bit soft on TIOAC).

In fact, there have been several other examples of TIOAC over the years.

Professor Tim Spector has spent a lifetime researching twins at the unit at St Thomas's Hospital. He's written a knock-out book called Identically Different. Lo and behold it's full of examples of TIOAC.

They call it "epigenetics" and it now even includes possible mechanisms explanations for how it happens.

It's a giant headline: "Darwin was wrong". OK, it's not that simple - it never is. But somehow I find it tremendously satisfying that science can throw stones at its biggest heroes - and Darwin is the biggest. Or I suppose, given the time of year, it should be snowballs.

Merry Christmas Charlie.