08/07/2014 12:46 EDT

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The body doesn't forget starvation easily.

In fact, it may haunt your genes for three generations, according to a new study published in the journal Cell.

What's more, the hardships our ancestors endured may determine our physical behaviour today.

For the Israeli and American researchers, the breakthrough came after they starved a few worms.

In doing so, they isolated a mechanism called "small RNA inheritance," essentially a means by which they pass down physical memories to future generations.

“There are possibly several different genetic mechanisms that enable inheritance of traits in response to changes in the environment. This is a new field, so these mechanisms are only now being discovered,” Dr. Oded Rechavi of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Life Sciences told Jewish Business News.

These small RNAs prove responsive to the trauma of starvation and, in turn, target genes involved in nutrition. Researchers also noted these same small RNAs were inherited by at least three generations of worms — and those young fresh worms proved to have a longer lifespan than their ancestors.

“We have not shown that the starvation-induced small RNAs were responsible for the increased longevity—it’s just a correlation,” Dr. Hobert said in a press release. “But it’s possible that these small RNAs provided a means for the worms to control the expression of relevant genes in later generations.”

The idea is that our genetic memory of physical trauma may influence our physical responses today — potentially casting a powerful light on disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

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