Child abuse may have an even more profound effect than just psychological damage, according to a new study. Abuse may actually ‘scar’ our DNA on the molecular level, leading to intergenerational damage.
“We already know there are a lot of behavioral mechanisms by which trauma has negative effects on the next generation,” Harvard scientist Dr Andrea Roberts told The Independent.
“Trauma obviously really affects the behavior of people traumatized. It often makes them depressed, it gives them post-traumatic stress disorder, and those mental health conditions affect their parenting and affect the kids. This is another possible pathway.”
Using sperm samples from a small set of 34 men, of which 22 had suffered some form of abuse as children, the new research from the University of British Columbia and Harvard University found 12 areas in the survivors’ DNA that were affected by some ‘molecular scarring.’
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This ‘molecular scarring’ in DNA is caused by a chemical process known as methylation, the process by which a methyl group is added to DNA, which can have a ‘dampening effect’ on certain gene expressions. The full impact of this process on the men’s health has yet to be determined, however, as longer-term research is needed. The study of epigenetics is still in its infancy, relatively speaking.
“Some very good findings from mice have shown that early life stressors affect the marks on the sperm, and then in turn those affect the health of the offspring in particular creating a kind of anxious behavior,” Dr Roberts added.
The researchers found eight DNA regions that showed a difference of over 10 percent, while one region in particular had been dampened by up to 29 percent.
If such research expands and holds up under peer review and eventual meta analysis, it may pave the way for more accuracy in criminal investigations, zeroing in on perpetrators who leave DNA at the scene of a crime and helping to narrow the age of a suspect.