Health warning: Poverty is bad for your genes

Older readers may recall their parents’ and grandparents’ tales of The Depression. That enormous economic disater between 1929 and 1933, caused by the dodgy dealings of financiers, free market fundamentalists and complicit politicians (shorten this to Republican Party?-ed). Internationally it led to the rise of Hitler and Japanese militarism, and we all know where that led. Domestically, it led to homelessness, unemployment and grinding poverty.

The effects of poverty on things like learning attainment, physical development and general health are well established, But can it actually affect your genetic make-up, your DNA-and thereby say with you for life? Unfortunately, the answer is beginning to look like “Yes”. Nature Briefings has showcased an intriguing study which looked at the genetic material from people born between 1929 and 1939, the key years for the poverty caused by the Depression and its aftermath. We reproduce their lead here as usual, but truly urge you to click on the link they provide and see the main report. It really looks as if the poverty of those years was affecting the epigenetics of its victims-the markers and tags which determine when genes are deployed, when they are switched on and off, and so on,

This of course raises deep questions about individual freedom. What greater effect can someone else have than to change your genes for life? It has implications in the abortion debate currently raging in the USA, as the authors make clear. For us, there is a deeper question: can epigenetic changes be passed to subsequent generations? It’s a big question, and we’ll do no more than point you to the Wikipedia [1] article on the topic. But think of the implications if it’s true.

The Great Depression Shaped Peoples’ DNA

The cells of people who were conceived during the Great Depression show signs of ageing faster than they should. The changes were measured in the cells’ epigenome, the chemical tags attached to DNA that determine how and when genes are expressed. Researchers say that the patterns they have uncovered could be tied to higher rates of disease and death.Nature | 5 min read
Reference: PNAS paper


#epigentics #dna #poverty #depression #wall street crash

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