Trauma Passed On Between Generations? Abused Children Retain Trauma In Their Cells, Says Recent Study


Children who have been subjected to abuse carry the physical remains of that particular trauma in their cells, according to scientists.

Experts’ research could help criminal investigations probe historic mistreatment. Such imprints may also shed light on whether or not trauma has the ability to be passed on between generations. This was hypothesized for quite a while.

Examining victims of child abuse 

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia has examined the sperm cells of 34 adult men. Some of them had been victims of child abuse earlier in life.

Researchers found that the effects of trauma have been printed in 12 regions of the DNA of those men who have experienced varying levels of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

According to scientists, such alterations known as methylation could be used one day by investigators in order to weigh allegations of child abuse.

“If you think of genes as being like lightbulbs, DNA methylation is like a dimmer switch that controls how strong each light is — which in turn can influence how cells function,” Nicole Gladish, a Ph.D. candidate in the university’s Department of Medical Genetics, told AFP.

“This information can potentially provide additional information about how childhood abuse affects long-term physical and mental health.”

This recent experiment is only one of a growing number of trials that are looking into what turns the genes on and off, so to speak, at various periods of human development.

The study could help in developing tests useful as forensic evidence 

Due to the degree of methylation changes that take place over time, experts were able to tell by looking at the men’s cells when the abuse occurred.

Gladish said that this could someday support developing tests that could be used by healthcare workers or potentially even as forensic evidence.

Even if at the moment, researchers still have little idea whether or not the imprints of abuse contained within sperm cells would survive fertilization intact, the lead author of the study Andrea Roberts said that this study brings scientists much closer towards working out if trauma can be transmitted across generations.


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