According to researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center, Harvard University, and Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, individuals conceived in the severe Dutch Famine, also called the Hunger Winter, were delivered with a normal birth weight but extensive research on the DNA of these children shows that the regulatory systems of their growth genes were altered, which may also explain why they appear to be at higher risk for metabolic disease in later life.
During the winter of 1944 -1945 the Western part of Netherlands was struck by a severe 6-month famine, during which rations provided were as low as a quarter of the daily energy requirements. Leiden University principal investigator Dr. Bas Heijmans said, "The different setting of the growth genes may have helped the Hunger Winter children to withstand the Famine conditions as compared with their unexposed siblings, but these changes may likewise be unfavorable for their metabolism as adults."
AdvertisementThe research team compared the DNA of these children, now aged 60, at 1.2 million CpG methylation sites comparing them with same-sex siblings not exposed to famine. They noticed that the groups of genes involved in growth and development showed a different gene activity setting in these famine struck children as compared with their siblings with a similar genetic and familial background. The potential for a gene to become active is mainly determined in the crucial weeks post fertilization.
L.H. Lumey, MD, associate professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and senior author who collected the analyzed blood samples said, "Looking at the human genome we see systematic changes in gene regulation during early human development in response to the environment. The epigenetic revolution has given us the tools to investigate these changes and look at the impact for later life."
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.