(ORDO NEWS) — The Rwandan genocide experienced by pregnant women led to epigenetic changes in their DNA and the DNA of their children, scientists from the University of South Florida along with Rwandan colleagues found. They talked about this in an article in the journal Epigenomics.
In 1994, the Rwandan Tutsi people faced a genocide initiated by the Hutu people. About 800 thousand Tutsis were killed (in total, up to 1.1 million people died, about 20% of the country’s population), mass rapes also took place, infrastructure was destroyed, which led to severe economic consequences.
The researchers studied 59 genomes of Tutsi women and their children. Some women experienced manifestations of genocide during pregnancy – they were raped, witnessed brutal reprisals, were attacked, and fled from captivity. The rest were in other regions at that time.
It turned out that the experienced genocide affected the DNA of both the women themselves and their offspring. Many of the epigenetic changes found have occurred in genes that have previously been associated with the risk of mental disorders, in particular post-traumatic disorder and depression.
“Epigenetic changes in DNA that help control gene function are stable but reversible,” the authors note. “They can occur at a shorter time than is necessary to change the basic DNA sequence.
Our study showed that prenatal exposure to genocide was associated with an epigenetic pattern indicative of reduced gene function in the offspring.”
Although this study focuses specifically on the impact of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, it confirms the results of previous studies that show that the events experienced by a woman during pregnancy affect the fetus. Such data proves the need for greater efforts to care for the emotional and psychological well-being of pregnant women.
Those who were in the womb at the time of the genocide are now having children of their own, scientists say. They hope to find out soon whether the trauma experienced had an epigenetic effect on the third generation as well. Also, the researchers are going to find out how epigenetic changes could affect the risk of developing specific mental disorders.
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