It's been said for years that drinking while pregnant could damage the child, and now science has come up with a reason why, claiming that alcohol can chemically alter a fetus' DNA. Is this the start of Booze Mutants?
The claim comes from Australian scientist Suyinn Chong at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, who has proven that rodent DNA is altered by the blood alcohol level of the mother during pregnancy:
Pregnant mice were given alcohol instead of water to drink freely during the first half of pregnancy. Their blood alcohol levels were around 0.12 per cent – the equivalent in a human of around one-and-a-half times the legal driving limit in the UK and US.
When the team looked at the newborn mice, they counted twice as many brown mice as they expected. "This means that the alcohol was affecting the epigenome of the mice – controlling whether their genes were switched on or off," says Chong.
The research also revealed that other genes, including those in the mice's liver cells, had also been altered by the alcohol. Chong hopes that this discovery can be adapted for human usage to combat Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:
If we find specific genes have been affected by alcohol exposure, we could potentially screen newborns for the syndrome so that they can be offered social care early in life, but it's still early days.
Alcohol during pregnancy chemically alters fetal DNA [New Scientist]