Page URL:

Early life factors may impact genes of Glasgow's poorest, study claims

31 January 2012
Appeared in BioNews 642

Unhealthy lifestyles associated with social deprivation may have detrimental effects on DNA before birth, say scientists. A study of adults living in Glasgow shows a correlation between deprivation and DNA methylation - a normal process that occurs mainly during embryonic development and regulates gene activity. Researchers suggest these differences in methylation may affect an individual's risk of developing disease later in life.

Professor Carol Tannahill, director of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, which funded the study, said that the 'findings add evidence that people in poorer socio-economic circumstances may face an uphill health challenge from before birth'.

A team from the University of Glasgow analysed the DNA of 239 adults living in both impoverished and affluent areas of the city. The team work in the field of epigenetics - the study of factors that alter genes without changing the DNA sequence itself. This includes environmental factors which modify DNA through chemical changes like methylation.

In DNA methylation enzymes in the cell tag parts of the DNA to indicate that a certain gene should be turned on or off at a specific time and place. Such tags are largely set during the first stage of human embryonic development and are required throughout life to ensure the correct development and continued function of tissues and organs. In this study the DNA of people from deprived areas showed low levels of methylation.

Dr Paul Shiels, the epigeneticist who led the study, explained: 'Methylation levels decline throughout everyone's life as part of the natural process of ageing and can be slightly affected in adulthood by external factors such as diet, stress and lifestyle. Those external factors have a much greater effect on babies developing in the womb [...] so it's very likely that the significantly lower levels of methylation we're seeing in the most deprived areas of the city are set before birth'.

A direct relationship between social deprivation and genetic predisposition to ill health has not been firmly established by this study, though a correlation is suggested. Further investigation is therefore needed to determine the genetic impact on the offspring of expectant mothers living in deprived areas.

This study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Babies born into poverty are damaged forever before birth
Scotsman |  24 January 2012
DNA could explain riddle of poor health in Glasgow
Herald Scotland |  24 January 2012
DNA link to deprived city residents
Press Association |  23 January 2012
DNA shows link to ill health in Glasgow
BBC News |  23 January 2012
Leader: DNA plays a part, but lifestyle counts too
Scotsman |  24 January 2012
Socio-economic status is associated with epigenetic differences in the pSoBid cohort
International Journal of Epidemiology |  9 January 2012
4 December 2017 - by Dr Sam Sherratt 
Close, physical contact – or the lack of it - at an early age may lead to lasting changes to the genes, suggest researchers...
17 September 2012 - by Sandy Starr 
Significant improvements could be made to public health by building upon the findings of epigenetic research, according to a leading expert on epigenetics and child health...
23 July 2012 - by Dr Rebecca Hill 
Despite sharing the same womb, identical twins are born with different alterations to their DNA that can affect the activity of individual genes...
23 April 2012 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
Chemical alterations in a group of genes affect how we age, scientists have discovered. These changes switch genes on or off in response to diet or environmental factors throughout our lives. Researchers found that four genes that are epigentically switched off in later life may have a bearing on how well we age...
24 October 2011 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
Living conditions during childhood may have a long-term effect on DNA, according to new research by British and Canadian scientists. The findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, may explain why some people who grow up in socioeconomic deprivation have health disadvantages later in life, despite improvements in their living conditions in adulthood...
1 August 2011 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy 
The rate at which we age depends on socio-economic status and can be revealed by a DNA test, which will improve assessment of public health measures, say Glaswegian scientists....
6 April 2010 - by Professor Derek Bolton 
Genetics has made enormous advances towards understanding the causes of medical and psychiatric conditions. We know from the past few decades of research that many common psychiatric conditions have some contribution from genes, ranging from modest (30 to 40 per cent) to high (over 60 per cent). Moving on from this general finding, two questions dominate current research...
7 December 2009 - by Dr Aarathi Prasad 
Session 3 of the Progress Educational Trust's annual conference (PET), held on Wednesday 18 November 2009 at Clifford Chance, was chaired by Professor Dian Donnai,Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of Manchester, and started with a talk by Karen Temple, Professor of Medical Genetics and Honorary Consultant in Clinical Genetics at the University of Southampton and Wessex Clinical Genetics Service. Professor Temple gave an intriguing talk on the influence of parent...
2 August 2009 - by Professor Marcus Pembrey 
Epigenetics is about the when and where of gene activity and about shaping development in response to early experience - from internal cues in the growing embryo to the prevailing physical and the social environment. So it is not surprising that discoveries in epigenetics are being enthusiastically embraced by those who find the fatalism often associated with classical genetics rather soul-destroying. But it is important not to overstate the case for epigenetics. DNA sequence, its vari
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.