During the winter of 1944, the Nazis blocked food supplies to the western Netherlands, creating a period of widespread famine and devastation. The impact of starvation on expectant mothers were also an epigenetic experiment — a way to monitor changes resulting from external rather than genetic influences.
The results in those families have suggested that the body's physiological responses to hardship could be inherited. If so, the underlying mechanism remained a mystery.
In a recent Cell paper, researchers explore a genetic mechanism that passes on the body's response to starvation to subsequent generations of worms, with potential implications for humans also exposed to starvation and other physiological challenges, such as anorexia nervosa.