Genes modified by diet
The importance of epigenetics is still rising. A recent study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has shed light on a biological mechanism that could explain why some of us appear “programmed” to put on weight.
But before you blame grandma for your health, epigenetic inheritance of obesity has not been observed in humans at a molecular level, although the mechanism could explain patterns of obesity and diabetes seen in populations whose ancestors had a poor diet.
The researchers used a unique strain of mouse with a variant of a gene, called agouti viable yellow, that is not found in humans. When switched on, the agouti gene is associated with yellow fur, obesity, diabetes and cancer… Feeding pregnant mice a nutrition supplement switched off the agouti viable yellow gene.
“The novel thing is that when we bred the offspring of the supplemented mice, which had never seen the nutritional supplement, their offspring were also more likely to be brown and lean. The finding shows that diet can affect gene expression and that can be heritable.”
Update: Trevor sent me his opinion:
I think these findings are very important in advancing our understanding of how the epigenome may affect our health and our susceptibility to disease. I have blogged about some epigenetic transgenerational research in the past, including the research out of Dr. Michael Skinner’s lab (where I work) at Washington State University.
I have also blogged about similar research with the agouti mouse model out of the lab of Dr. Robert Waterland at the Baylor College of Medicine.
In my opinion, in the next few years it will likely become apparent that other nutritional items and chemical toxicants will be found to have similar effects. It will be an interesting phenomenon to watch, and one that could
have broad implications for our understanding of how our environment is affecting human health.