Air Pollution Affects Baby’s DNA Even Before Birth

Study reveals that when the pregnant woman breathes polluted air, the baby is born with shorter chromosomes – and this can reduce their life expectancy

Air pollution is bad for health – and it is not today that governments are trying to create measures to combat this problem. But research from Columbia University found that the consequences of pollution can start before we even leave our mothers’ bellies.

The study looked at the DNA of babies born in Tongliang, China, before and after a coal mine was shut down. The conclusion was clear – and disturbing. The babies born when the factory was still in operation were born with a major genetic modification: they had shorter telomeres. And, therefore, they may have a shorter life expectancy.

The telomeres are at the tips of the chromosomes, and serve to protect them from damage. When the body’s cells reproduce, to replace those that die naturally, telomeres get shorter and shorter. This impairs cell reproduction, which increases the chance of mutations (read cancer) and accelerates the aging of the person. Being born with the shorter telomeres, therefore, is already having lost some life time – and also be subject to more health problems.

“The length of a person’s telomeres, when they are born, is related to their risk of developing disease as an adult,” says lead researcher Dr. Deliang Tang. The study evaluated 255 children, who had their DNA sequenced shortly after birth.

 

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