On November 27, 2013 the magazine Smithsonian published an article reporting on the importance of epigenetics in assessing adverse effects of chemical exposures. Transgenerational epigenetic effects are heritable genetic modifications, which are not caused by changes in the genetic sequence and may be inherited across more than 2 generations. As reported by the article, in 2005, Michael Skinner, biologist at the Washington State University, U.S., found the endocrine disrupting chemical vinclozolin to affect spermatogenesis in grandchildren of rats exposed in the womb to the chemical. Later, Skinner traced the effects of chemical exposures up to the fourth- and fifth-generation offspring of exposed mothers. He found effects to be chemical specific. In the article, journalist Jeneen Interlandi hypothesizes that this specific fingerprint could at some point allow tracing methylation patterns, one kind of epigenetic change, back to specific chemical exposures. According to the article, Skinner does not aim to carry out chemical risk assessment with his research, but to uncover new biological response mechanisms to chemical exposures. Epigenetic inheritance is considered “the best candidate” for explaining those transgenerational effects caused by environmental exposures, which cannot be explained by changes in DNA sequence.
Jeneen Interlandi (December 2013). “The Toxins That Affected Your Great-Grandparents Could Be In Your Genes.”