We know that mass pesticide use is reshaping our environment, but is it also transforming the genes we pass to future generations?
Vastly improved understanding of the human genome has led to the discovery of a fateful new concept: Environmental Epigenetic Trans-generational Inheritance. More commonly referred to as disease inheritance, it describes a genetic time bomb that carries the collateral damage of insecticides, herbicides and other chemical compounds far into the future.
“The concept is pretty simple,” explains a report by the Washington DC-based nonprofit The Organic Center. “Coming into contact with toxic chemicals could lead to negative health effects in your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. This means that if you are exposed to pollutants, you could be creating a cascade effect of health problems for your descendants. …
“One of the main mechanisms responsible for the inheritance of effects caused by environmental pollutants is called epigenetics. While some toxins may not mutate the actual sequences of our DNA, they can turn different genes on and off. These chemical changes in gene expression are called epigenetic effects, and can be heritable. When epigenetic effects are caused by environmental pollutants such as pesticides, the negative effects of exposure can be passed on to future generations. …
“An example of this was recently described in a study that showed DDT exposure could increase rates of obesity several generations down the line. Researchers in the study exposed rats to DDT, and found that it caused an increase in dramatic fat accumulation and weight gain three generations later.”
In that 2013 study (Skinner et al.) the Washington State University research team noted: “A number of environmental factors such as toxicants and nutrition have been shown to promote the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult onset disease and phenotypic variation. Examples of environmental compounds include the fungicide vinclozolin, plasticizers bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, dioxin, hydrocarbons, and pesticides. … Therefore, your ancestors’ environmental exposures may influence your disease development, even though you have never had a direct exposure.”
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