In a recent and astonishing study, the researchers found out that child abuse leaves some molecular traces in victims’ DNA. These “scars” remain visible for years and, in the future, could also be used in court as evidence.
However, the research was only based on the comparison of chemical tags on the DNA of 34 adult men, so more extensive studies are needed to confirm these recent findings.
“Methylation is starting to be viewed as a potentially useful tool in criminal investigations — for example, by providing investigators with an approximate age of a person who left behind a sample of their DNA,” said Michael Kobor from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada. “So it’s conceivable that the correlations we found between methylation and child abuse might provide a percentage probability that abuse had occurred,” added Kobor.
Methylation is like a “switch” on genes influencing to what extent they are activated or not.
Child Abuse Leaves Traces in Victims’ DNA
The scientists from the University of British Columbia chose to analyze methylation in sperm cells, as they hypothesized that childhood stress caused by child abuse might impact physical health on the long-run, not only on the respective victims but also on their offsprings.
The scientists discovered a unique methylation difference between child abuse victims and non-victims in as many as 12 regions of the men’s DNA. Among these areas of the genome, eight DNA regions were over 10 percent different, while one section of the genome showed a difference of 29 percent.
“When the sperm meets the egg, there is a massive amount of genetic reshuffling, and most of the methylation is at least temporarily erased,” explained Andrea Roberts, a scientist from the Harvard School of Public Health, in the US.
“But finding a molecular signature in sperm brings us at least a step closer to determining whether child abuse might affect the health of the victim’s offspring,” the scientist added.