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Pollutants long gone, but disease carries on

Certain chemicals cause epigenetic changes that foster illness in rats’ offspring

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5:43pm, February 28, 2012

Exposure to certain pollutants early in a rat’s pregnancy can foster disease in her offspring during their adulthood as well as in subsequent generations, a new study shows. A wide range of pollutants elicited such lasting effects, despite future generations never encountering the triggering pollutant.

Some chemicals tested led to premature puberty among great-granddaughters, with an increased risk of disease in reproductive tissues. In some tests, the chemicals disrupted ovarian function, something that in humans could lead to infertility or premature menopause. And another chemical exposure caused premature death of sperm-forming cells in the great-grandsons, researchers report online February 28 in PLoS ONE.

Rather than altering genes, the tested pollutants stripped or added chemical tags to DNA, altering the way genes are regulated, reports Michael Skinner and his colleagues at Washington State University in Pullman. Stripping off or piling on th

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