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Parental Stress Affects Genome


December 22, 2010

The field of epigenetics is beginning to reveal the relationship between parental lifestyle or stresses and their effects on children and grandchildren. Historically it was thought that family genetic inheritance involved the DNA through the genes only. Now however, “increasing experimental evidence, now leads scientists to believe that other factors allow genes to be switched on and off in response to environmental stimuli. The consequences of which may affect subsequent generations.”

Genetic diseases it has been discovered may have been transmitted because of the circumstances of the mother or father, or both at the time of conception or at other times during the pregnancy cycle. And in the case of some genetic diseases, prior to conception if the father contributed the genetic deficiency.

For instance, a small deletion of a chromosome can transmit one disease if the mutation comes from the mother, but a different disease if the same mutation comes from the father.

“Professor Wolf Reik, Developmental Geneticist, Babraham Institute Cambridge helped unravel the control process. He noticed that when a mouse embryo was placed in a culture dish some of genes would be switched off and wondered whether this could also be true for human embryos during In vitro fertilization (IVF)”

Reik discovered that changing the embryo’s environment can could make epigenetic alterations, causing genes to be turned on an off. In experiments with mice, he learned that these changes can be inherited from one generation to another.

Professor Jonathan Seckl, Edinburgh University, studied the ‘transgenerational effects’ and showed “that exposure to stress hormones caused raised anxiety in their offspring, and in generations thereafter.”

Professor Rachel Yehuda, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York studied women who were pregnant on September 11, 2001 when the terrorist struck New York’s twin towers. She found that those women who were in the last trimester of pregnancy at the time of the attack had lower levels of the hormone cortisol, which assists with coping with stress. Their children were also born with lower levels of cortisol too, which indicates that stressful events in the last trimester of the mother’s pregnancy can change a child’s ability to cope with stress.

While this result is not confirmed until further studies are done, it appears to indicate that environmental changes during pregnancy (at least certain periods of pregnancy) can pass on genetic alterations to children.

Studies in Sweden have even demonstrated that “life expectancy of grandchildren was directly affected by the diet of the grandparents. Fatal childhood diabetes was often associated with their father’s father living during a period of reduced food supply. In a further development, the records revealed that triggering of a trans-generational effect was dependent upon the time in the grandparents’ lives when food had been in short supply. For the grandfather it was just before puberty and for the grandmother it was the moment of conception, crucial moments in the development of sperm and egg. These observations suggest that environmental information, in this case supply of food, was being imprinted on the DNA of the sperm and egg, providing strong evidence that epigenetic inheritance occurs in humans.

In further work, Mike Skinner exposed a pregnant rat to a high dose of a common pesticide. He found that the offspring passed on an array of diseases, such as; tumors, kidney disease and immune dysfunction from generation to generation. This evidence suggests that there are a whole series of environment events that might possibly trigger transgenerational affects and effect future generations.

“Great care should be exercised to have the surroundings of the mother pleasant and happy. The husband and father is under special responsibility to do all in his power to lighten the burden of the wife and mother. He should bear, as much as possible, the burden of her condition. He should be affable, courteous, kind, and tender, and specially attentive to all her wants. Not half the care is taken of some women while they are bearing children that is taken of animals in the stable. Adventist Home, p. 257

“The race is groaning under a weight of accumulated woe because of the sins of former generations. And yet with scarcely a thought or care, men and women of the present generation indulge intemperance by surfeiting and drunkenness and thereby leave, as a legacy for the next generation, disease, enfeebled intellects, and polluted morals.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, p. 31.

“As a rule, every intemperate man who rears children transmits his inclinations and evil tendencies to his offspring.” Mind, Character and Personality, Vol. 1, p. 135.