Moms' Stress in Ice Storm Shows Up in Kids' DNA
Effects seen in aftermath of huge storm in Canada in 1998
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2014 2:39 PM CDT
File photo of the aftermath of an ice storm.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(Newser) – Just how bad was an epic 1998 ice storm in Canada? You can read all about it in the DNA of kids who were born around that time. An intriguing study in PLoS One finds that women who were especially stressed during the storm gave birth to kids whose immune cells have telltale signs of their mothers' trouble, reports Raw Story. The storm was brutal, leaving people without power for more than a month. Researchers at the time surveyed expectant moms to gauge their "objective" distress, measuring things such as how many days they went without electricity. Then they tracked down their kids more than a decade later and found that moms who were in the most distress bore children whose DNA had specific markers as a result. The genes affected are related to immune function and sugar metabolism.

Toronto's Globe and Mail has a nice explanation of what's going on, with help from Suzanne King of McGill University. It involves "epigenetics," as opposed to genetics:

  • "An individual’s genetics are like a musical score, and what’s written comes from the mother and father. ... Although nothing can change what’s written on the page, environmental factors act as an orchestral conductor might, amplifying some aspects and tempering others, leaving markings, or methylation of the DNA."
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A pregnant woman in a famine, for instance, might "amplify" traits that would give her child a better chance of surviving—traits that could then backfire in terms of health if the famine goes away. It's not clear what, if any, health effects the Canadian kids will see as a result, explains a post at McGill University. But given the genes affected, they might have a greater risk of developing asthma, diabetes, or obesity. (You can blame your coffee craving on DNA, too.)
 

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