New research on rats shows that exposure to a common fungicide affects the generations to come. Scientists exposed female gestating rats to vinclozolin, a fungicide known to disrupt hormones. Three generations later, their descendants were more likely to show stress and anxiety than their unexposed counterparts.
‘We did not know a stress response could be reprogrammed by your ancestors’ environmental exposures,’ said Michael Skinner, co-author of the study and researcher at the Washington State University. ‘So how well you socialize or how your anxiety levels respond to stress may be as much your ancestral epigenetic inheritance as your individual early-life events.’
The researchers revealed on early experiments that chemical exposure affected the descendants’ genetics, but now they show how it may influence the brain and behavior as well.
‘There is no doubt that we have been seeing real increases in mental disorders like autism and bipolar disorder,” says co-author David Crews, at the University of Texas at Austin. ‘It’s more than just a change in diagnostics. The question is why? Is it because we are living in a more frantic world, or because we are living in a more frantic world and are responding to that in a different way because we have been exposed? I favor the latter.’
Photo: Todd Huffman/Flickr
Crews, D., Gillette, R., Scarpino, S., Manikkam, M., Savenkova, M., & Skinner, M. (2012). Epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of altered stress responses Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118514109