Washington: If your ancestors were exposed to a common pesticide - widely used the world over during the 1970s as a safer replacement for DDT and still in use in many countries - this may lead to adult onset of kidney disease, ovarian disease and obesity in future generations.
According to a new study, the incidence of multiple diseases increased in the third generation or great-grandchildren.
"What your great-grandmother was exposed to during pregnancy, like the pesticide methoxychlor, may promote a dramatic increase in your susceptibility to develop disease. You will pass this on to your grandchildren in the absence of any continued exposures," claimed Michael Skinner, a professor at Washington State University.
Methoxychlor - also known as Chemform, Methoxo, Metox or Moxie - was banned in the US in 2003 due to its toxicity and ability to disrupt endocrine systems.
Methoxychlor can behave like the hormone estrogen and profoundly affects the reproductive system.
When Skinner and his team exposed gestating rats to methoxychlor, they saw increases in the incidence of kidney disease, ovary disease and obesity in offspring spanning three generations.
"The pesticide may be affecting how genes are turned on and off in the progeny of an exposed animal, even though its DNA and gene sequences remain unchanged," researchers noted.
This is called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.
Additionally, the study identified mutations in the sperm epigenome of great-grandchild male rats.
The epigenome functions like a set of switches for regulating gene expression and can be altered by environmental conditions.
The study was published online in the journal PLOS ONE.