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Starvation genes run in families

Posted on Aug 01 2014 | IANS

London, Aug 1 : If your ancestors have faced starvation at some point of time, chances are that you may also have inherited the "memory of starvation" and can pass this to future generations.

Researchers have identified a mechanism called "small RNA inheritance" that enables worms to pass on the memory of starvation to multiple generations.

This has potential implications for humans who were exposed to starvation and other physiological challenges such as anorexia nervosa.

"There are possibly several different genetic mechanisms that enable inheritance of traits in response to changes in the environment," said Oded Rechavi from Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Life Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience.

During the study, worms were starved early in their development.

They responded by producing small RNAs, which function by regulating genes through a process that is known as RNA interference (RNAi).

The researchers discovered that the starvation-responsive small RNAs target genes that are involved in nutrition.

More important, the starvation-induced small RNAs were inherited by at least three subsequent generations of worm specimens.

"We were also surprised to find that the great-grandchildren of the starved worms had an extended life span," Rechavi added.

This could possibly allow parents to prepare their progeny for hardships similar to the ones that they experience, Leah Houri-Zeev from Tel Aviv University concluded in the paper published in the journal Cell.

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