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Study: Chemicals In Great-Grandma’s Life May Promote Disease In You

Jessica Robinson


The chance of a woman getting ovarian disease may be tied to the toxic chemicals her great-grandmother was exposed to. That’s according to a new study by researchers at Washington State University. The study could help explain the role of environmental factors in inherited diseases.

Here’s how it works. Picture your great-grandmother. Now let’s say, while pregnant with your future grandparent, she was exposed to some toxic chemical. Pesticides, phthalates -- that stuff in plastic -- or maybe jet fuel. Those are some of the things the researchers looked at.

It could be that something happens in your still-developing grandparent. Not in the DNA itself. This isn’t a genetic mutation. Rather, the toxic substance may alter the chemistry surrounding the DNA -- that is, the programing that determines whether a gene is switched on or off.

And researcher Michael Skinner found, at least in rats, a switch gets flipped that promotes ovarian disease for generations down the line.

“This suggests that environmental compounds and what your ancestors were exposed to -- might actually promote a disease in you. And you’re going to pass it on to your children,” Skinner says.

Skinner says the same mechanism could also be contributing to rising cancer rates. The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

On the Web:

Study: “Environmentally Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Ovarian Disease”

Skinner Laboratory at WSU