Epigentics: Nederlands ‘Hongerwinter’ (1944-1945)

Dutch Children Underwent the ‘Starvation Winter’ – 1944-1945

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Whilst searching through Chinese language texts regarding the subject of epigenetics, I came across a Chinese language translation of a BBC Knowledge article entitled ‘表观遗传学,先天与后天的桥梁——《BBC知识》’, or ‘Epigenetics, the Bridge Between Innate and Acquired – “BBC Knowledge’. As I could not find the original English language version, I have decided to translate a short extract about one particular and terrible experience the Dutch people had under Nazi German occupation during WWII.

Acquired Changes in Innate Genes

Some epigenetic responses to the environment are established early in life, such as in the first trimester of human pregnancy. For example, at the end of the Second World War, there was a severe shortage of food in parts of the Nederlands. For months, the locals consumed less than 40% of the calories at a time known to the Dutch as ‘Hongerwinter’. Babies during this period were normal at birth, but developed a higher prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in adulthood. This is because in the early stages of development, their genes were epigenetically modified, allowing the body to make full use of the precious nutrients that were not readily available at that time. If famine persists, such epigenetic modifications can be an advantage, but in today’s society where there is no food shortage to worry about, this adaptation can become become a problem. The epigenetic effects of the Dutch wartime famine persist to this day.

Original Chinese Language Text:



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