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"Lighting Effects" -- The Discovery Files

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Animals can pass the damaging effects of nighttime light exposure to their offspring, a new study has found, adding to a growing body of evidence that there's a health cost to our increasingly illuminated nights. Hamster pups are born with weakened immune systems and impaired endocrine activity when their parents don't receive a natural mix of daylight and darkness prior to mating, found researchers. This research aimed to determine whether parents were passing along possible modifications in genetic messaging, known as epigenetic changes.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Double exposure.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files from the National Science Foundation.

Lighten up. The lighter side. Light the way. While we usually see light in a very, well, positive light, light has a dark side. An Ohio State University study of animals' nighttime light exposure and its consequences shows it may be possible to pass on negative effects to the next generation.

There's already evidence that links dim-light exposure during naturally dark hours to a variety of health problems -- cancer, diabetes and others. This is the first study that suggests that damage can be passed on to the offspring through modifications of genetic messaging, or epigenetic changes.

The team studied the naturally nocturnal Siberian hamster exposing different groups to dark nights or dim nighttime light. They mated hamsters from various groups. Pups whose parents didn't receive the natural mix of daylight and darkness were born with weakened immunity and impaired endocrine systems.

This is more than just hamsters with night lights. Its part of a growing body of evidence that light pollution can have serious health ramifications, now and for the next generation.

A wake-up call in this lit-up, LED world. Might be best to just turn out the lights and go to sleep.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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