As with so much in science, this story owes a lot to mice. The tale begins with a pregnant mouse in a laboratory in Boston, Massachusetts. Such is the unfortunate lot of a lab rodent that she was kept on a near-starvation diet when she was close to giving birth. As scientists expected, her babies were born smaller than usual. When they were raised normally, they later developed diabetes.
Now comes the twist. Even though these mice were well fed, their own young were also born unusually small and with a higher risk of diabetes. This was strange, because nothing had changed genetically and they hadn’t suffered any problems in the womb or after they were born. They should have been perfectly healthy.
This puzzling study, published last month, echoes many performed on mice, worms and plants in the past few years in the name of a relatively young branch of science called epigenetics. In seeking to answer that eternal question of nature versus nurture – does our upbringing shape us or do our genes? – this field has radically introduced a mysterious third element into the mix: the life experience of previous generations.
Read the full, original story: Epigenetics: genes, environment and the generation game