Epigentics: Nederlands ‘Hongerwinter’ (1944-1945)

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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:

http://www.zxxk.com/article/696290.html

后天改变先天基因
有些因环境而产生的表观遗传反应在生命早期(比如人类怀孕的头三个月)就已经建立。举例来说,第二次世界大战快结束时,荷兰部分地区严重短缺粮食,有好几个月当地人所摄取的热量低于正常的40%,称为「饥饿严冬」(Hongerwinter)。这段时期的宝宝在出生时正常,不过成年后有比较高的肥胖以及第二型糖尿病发生率。这是因为在发育早期,他们的基因经过表观遗传修饰,使身体能够充分运用当时得来不易的珍贵养分。如果饥荒持续下去,这样的表观遗传修饰会是项优势,然而现今社会饮食无虞,这反倒成了问题。荷兰战时饥荒所造成的表观遗传效应至今仍持续着。

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