August 30, 2011

Parental Imprint on Children's DNA: Liability?

A report from the University of Wisconsin raises the possibility that epigenetic changes result to the the DNA of children as a function of the stress in their living environment; results are published in the journal Child Development. The DNA of children (from cheekswabs to check for methylation changes to DNA) was measured and analzyed according to the reported stress level in the family environment. Children in more stressful circumstances evidenced greater changes to their DNA.  Epigenetics - does your DNA become marked/tagged/altered in response to stress? - is a more recent sub-field in molecular biology, and it aims to account for the effect of prenatal or lifestyle (writ large) influences on genetic constitution. For example, a gene can become chemically altered by biochemical events in response to stress or environmental injury, with the result that a gene may underperform as a result. These are kinds of genetic modifications that ensue pre-birth, for example, post-birth and are not found in the newborn genome.  It's a kind of stress catalogue. So could a genomic record of epigenetic insult now support theories of legal liability in a genetic tort action for indifferent, stressful or abusive parenting?  

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