Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

What did grandad eat?

First, there was genetics, which was going to tell us the whole story simply by sequencing our genes. However, when our genes got sequenced, the picture only got a little clearer.

Then there was epigenetics (epi means above, so epigenetics is above genetics). With epigenetics, your gene sequence does not change, but genes can be switch on or off (pretty much like lightbulbs) by events that happen. Things are getting more complex if you have to account for both the genes and the environment, and the picture is harder to read.

Now comes inherited epigenetics. This means information about the parents’ environment that is passed to offspring, even if the parent never sees the offspring alive (which cuts out passing this by the more simple route of learning). The genes aren’t altered in the child, but expression (whether on or off) is controlled by the environment of the child’s parent.

Various conditions in the mother’s environment appear to get passed on epigenetically, but in this type of study it is hard to rule out mechanisms such as shared environment while in the womb.

So scientists trying to unravel this puzzle are looking at situations where the parent involved is the father, and does nothing more than supply the sperm (with no other influence in the life of the mother or child).

Dr Oliver J Rando and team have been trying to make headway in this using mice. The father was fed a low-protein high-sugar diet, allowed to mate with a female on a standard diet, but with no other contact. Compared to controls (father on standard diet, mother on standard diet) it was found that the offspring had 1600 genes which expressed differently and 500 where the difference was major. This affected blood fat profiles and cholesterol production.

The team couldn’t say whether it was low protein that was important, or high sugar, or some other factor such as low micro-nutrients. And they couldn’t work out how, precisely, this information was passed on, since they couldn’t find a difference in the sperm of the mice.

Unless you are a scientist this is barely interesting. However, the authors point out that two studies have shown inherited epigenetics in the paternal line at work in humans – but it skips a generation.

To at least a certain extent, you are what your grandfather ate.

In 2002, a research team published “Cardiovascular and diabetes mortality determined by nutrition during parents’ and grandparents’ slow growth period”.

In 2006, another team published “Sex-specific male line transgenerational responses in humans”.

These show that a severely restricted diet at key points in your grandfather’s time increase your risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular death, as you are pre-programmed by granddad’s famine-like environment.

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December 29, 2010 - Posted by | Cholesterol, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Diet, Epigenetics, Genetics, Health, Obesity, Success

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