In Caenorhabditis elegans worms, epigenetic information transmits transgenerationally. Still, it is unknown whether the effects transfer to the next generation inside or outside of the nucleus. Here, we use the tractability of gene-specific double-stranded RNA–induced silencing to demonstrate that RNA interference can be inherited independently of any nuclear factors via mothers that are genetically engineered to transmit only their ooplasm but not the oocytes’ nuclei to the next generation. We characterize the mechanisms and, using RNA sequencing, chimeric worms, and sequence polymorphism between different isolates, identify endogenous small RNAs which, similarly to exogenous siRNAs, are inherited in a nucleus-independent manner. From a historical perspective, these results might be regarded as partial vindication of discredited cytoplasmic inheritance theories from the 19th century, such as Darwin’s “pangenesis” theory.
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