Poverty is a ‘disease’, study finds

Ensuring proper nutrition for pregnant women and for the first two years of life ends the cycle of malnutrition.

Ensuring proper nutrition for pregnant women and for the first two years of life ends the cycle of malnutrition.

DNA carries traces of past events meaning poor lifestyle can affect future generations

IS poverty a disease? It is generally believed, in Nigeria, that poverty is a curse and could be inherited from generation to generation.

Now scientists may have provided an explanation. Genetic faults caused by trauma, poor lifestyle or environmental stress can be passed down to future generations, scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered.

Previously large studies have shown that devastating events such as famine can scar future generations, making them more prone to obesity and diabetes.

However it is the first time that the biological mechanism for the effect has been seen.

The research was published in the journal Cell.

Although the same genes are passed down through generations, scientists now know that our genetic material that is Deoxy Nucleic Acid (DNA) is being altered all the time by environment, lifestyle and traumatic events. It is thought that these changes drive disease, premature ageing and early death.

However it was believed that these faults could not be passed on to future generations, with the slate essentially being wiped clean.

But now scientists at University of Cambridge have found that in some areas of DNA, including those linked to mental illness and obesity, some of the faults remain.

In fact, around five per cent of our genetic code carries traces of past events, meaning that trauma, poor diet or poor lifestyle choices may by leaving a devastating legacy for children and grandchildren.

Professor Azim Surani, from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, said: “The information needs to be reset in every generation before further information is added to regulate development of a newly fertilised egg. It’s like erasing a computer disk before you add new data.”

Between week two and week nine of an embryo’s development the genetic code is being rewritten to erase genetic alterations from the parents. However the researchers found that the processes does not clear all of the changes. Around five per cent of DNA appears resistant to reprogramming.

These ‘escapee’ regions of the genome contain some genes that are particularly active in neuronal cells, which may serve important functions during development, the researchers believe.

Those genes are associated with conditions such as schizophrenia, metabolic disorders and obesity.

Walfred Tang, a PhD student who is the first author on the study, adds: “Our study has given us a good resource of potential candidates of regions of the genome where information is passed down not just to the next generation but potentially to future generations, too.”

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