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known as epigenetics the regulation of the activity of genes by factors external to the own genome . It is one of the strategies biochemical of certain genes to modulate, either activate or silence their expression. At the biochemical level, this regulation is carried out by adding a group –CH3 to DNA , is what is known as the methylation .

In China the percentage of people affected by diabetes in the decade of the eighties was very low, but with the arrival of the new century, the figures have shot up and are already close to one hundred and twenty million. The majority of these patients were born during the famine that swept China between the years 1958 and 1962.

In Cambodia the number type 2 diabetic is higher than expected –nearly six percent of the population – and affects the generation of children that were born during the years of terror of the Khmer rouge (1975-1979).

These findings are just a small sample of a long list, and do suspect that it is very possible that the famine, violence and stress are conducive to changes in the DNA during the intrauterine life.

the children of The “winter Dutch famine”

In September 1944, months after the landing of Normandy , the railway Dutch began a strike that sought to cripple the transport of German troops and, in this way, help to the allied armies.

The strike not only failed, but had dire consequences . The teutons punished the population by blocking the food supply to a large part of the country, cutting off gas, electricity and knocking down a multitude of dams, condemning in this way, the country’s isolation and lack of resources. For if all this were not enough, the thermal decrease caused by the channels of inland navigation to freeze.

given this scenario inhospitable, the population is forced to reduce the daily intake of calories in a seventy percent , and to eat herbs, tulip bulbs, and even the blood of animals in order to survive.

The end result was the death of more than twenty thousand people from starvation, a terrible episode which is known as the “winter Dutch famine”. The statistics reflect that during this period there were premature deaths and a greater number of abortions.

you may say that hunger gave the reason to Lamarck to lead to a “selection pressure” in a particular profile of the population.

When the researchers followed in the time to the children born during that period, it was observed that they had more obesity, breast cancer, schizophrenia and diabetes than the rest of the population. The base of these pathologies was found in the methylation of certain genes during the fetal period .

The legacy of the american civil war

When the Civil War an american I had the days counted, the conditions of the prison camps of the Confederation bottomed out. In those moments the soldiers captives were overcrowded and the hygiene conditions were notable in their absence. To this is added the lack of food, which caused many prisoners falleciesen as a result of diseases of deficiency and that the most fortunate sobreviviesen-based small rations of corn.

That heart-rending experience forever marked both the survivors and their heirs. When a group of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) tracked the files, he was shocked to see that the survival of the children of prisoners was lower than that of the other veterans of war.

Had a mortality rate eleven percent higher than that of the children of those who were not imprisoned. In the case of girls, higher rates are due, primarily, to bleeding in the brain.

The phenotype saver

From a physiological point of view, the explanation of these phenomena is tremendously attractive. The mother, to be deprived of the power, it transmits a signal to the fetus that add methyl groups to their DNA. In this way, the organism burns slowly energy and lessens the suffering due to the lack of resources. Is that in 1989 the researcher David Barker called phenotype saver.

Pedro Gargantilla is a internist in the Hospital of El Escorial (Madrid), and author of several popular books