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Poverty Negatively Affects Generations Through Genes: Study

A study conducted by the Northwestern University suggests that poverty leaves a mark on our genes.

The study, conducted at over 2,500 sites across more than 1,500 genes showed that low socioeconomic status is associated with levels of DNA methylation — a key process with the potential to change the activity of our DNA. Doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences agreed with the study.

Doctors have thus suggested that experiences over a course of development become embodied in the genome (the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell), to affect its structure and function.

“Poverty has a lasting impact on human behaviour in the form of heightened response to the stress and, increased vulnerability for many behavioural disorders. Behavioural influences from parents living under extreme poverty conditions may transfer across generations through a biological process known as ‘Transgenerational epigenetics’. Epigenetics is the change in the genomic structure of an individual without changing the sequence of the basic elements of its DNA,” said Dr Ashutosh Kumar, Clinical Researcher, AIIMS.

“This occurs through changes in the chemical tags attached to the DNA bases which may activate or repress particular genes, especially those for the neuronal functions, which implicate in the stress response. Epigenetic changes leave stronger marks if the individual has suffered during his/her childhood or pubertal ages, which also makes them vulnerable to developing many neuropsychiatric disorders in their own life period,” added Dr Ashutosh.

Previous research has shown that Socioeconomic Status (SES) is a powerful determinant of human health and disease, and social inequality is a ubiquitous stressor for human populations globally. Lower educational attainment and/or income predict increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, many cancers, and infectious diseases. Furthermore, a lower SES is associated with physiological processes that contribute to the development of diseases, including chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and cortisol dysregulation.

Scientists involved with the study have now announced a follow-up study where they will be looking at the consequences of this DNA methylation on health and other aspects of human life. – DNA