A new twist has been thrown into the classic debate of "nature versus nurture" through the budding field of epigenetics, which has found that nurture can alter the genetic nature of both an individual and the person's descendents.
Doctors studying epigenetics also have found evidence that a person's current environment can affect the health of their progeny, with today's events echoing decades down the family tree.
Hormonal differences in children born to mothers who had suffered extreme emotional and physical trauma. The differences make the children more susceptible to such mood disorders as anxiety and depression. The changes have been observed in second- and third-generation offspring of Holocaust survivors, as well as in the children of women who were pregnant on Sept. 11, 2001, and were evacuated from the World Trade Center, Yehuda said.
Extended longevity in people whose grandfathers suffered from malnourishment or starvation as children. This came from a landmark Swedish study that found that children raised in years when the harvest was bad produced grandchildren who lived longer than children who had plentiful food during their formative years, Dowshen said.
An effect on offspring from such behaviours as smoking and overeating. Dowshen said that such behaviours can predispose a person's children to systemic diseases, including diabetes and obesity.