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Andrew Steer asked the Naked Scientists:Within the past month I remember hearing a story about an experience of shortage of food in one generation being carried through genes and being expressed as a makeup (genetic or whatever) which is more resilient to food-shortages in the next-but-one generation. What do you think?
Toward the end of World War II, a German-imposed food embargo in western Holland--a densely populated area already suffering from scarce food supplies, ruined agricultural lands, and the onset of an unusually harsh winter--led to the death by starvation of some 30,000 people. Detailed birth records collected during that so-called Dutch Hunger Winter have provided scientists with useful data for analyzing the long-term health effects of prenatal exposure to famine. Not only have researchers linked such exposure to a range of developmental and adult disorders, including low birth weight, diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, breast and other cancers, but at least one group has also associated exposure with the birth of smaller-than-normal grandchildren. The finding is remarkable because it suggests that a pregnant mother's diet can affect her health in such a way that not only her children but her grandchildren (and possibly great-grandchildren, etc.) inherit the same health problems.