Scientists have concluded that a variety of environmental toxicants can have negative effects on the next three generations of offspring of exposed animals, by causing epigenetic changes to their genome.

Researchers from Washington State University investigated the effects of several chemicals on the offspring of exposed female rats, including the dioxin TCDD and a mixture of bisphenol A and phthalates in addition to pesticides and jet-fuel. The results showed that all the chemicals caused epigenetic changes in the genome of up to three generations of offspring. Also observed in non-exposed offspring were effects such as females reaching puberty earlier, increased rates in the decay and death of sperm cells and lower numbers of ovarian follicles that later become eggs.

The scientists therefore concluded that the ability to promote transgenerational disease is not unique to a small number of chemicals, but instead might be a characteristic of many environmental compounds.

The research is published in the journal PLoS ONE.