Human biology: Famine's shadow

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    Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi:10.1073/pnas.0806560105 (2008)

    Credit: US NATIONAL ARCHIVES

    If a starving woman becomes pregnant, her child's DNA can still bear traces of her hunger more than six decades later.

    Lambert Lumey of Columbia University in New York, Bastiaan Heijmans of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands and their colleagues studied the methyl groups attached to a gene called IFG2. They measured methylation at five points along IFG2 in people prenatally exposed to the 1944–45 Dutch famine — when a Nazi embargo led to food rationing in the west of Holland of fewer than 700 calories a day.

    Compared with same-sex siblings conceived when the same mothers had more flesh on their bones, those affected early in fetal development have less methylation on IFG2 today, implying that their cells express it more readily.

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    Human biology: Famine's shadow. Nature 456, 4 (2008) doi:10.1038/456004a

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