Epigenetics mechanism may help explain effects of mom's nutrition on her children's health

Pioneering studies by U. S. Department of Agriculture-funded research molecular geneticist Robert A. Waterland are helping explain how the foods that soon-to-be-moms eat in the days and weeks around the time of conception—or what's known as periconceptional nutrition–may affect the way genes function in her children, and her children's health.

In an early study, Waterland and co-investigators examined gene function of 50 healthy children living in rural villages in the West African nation of The Gambia. The study has shaped some of Waterland's current research into the effects of nutrition on what geneticists refer to as . Those mechanisms can impact, for example, the levels at which an everyday biochemical process, , occurs at regions of certain genes. DNA methylation is essential for cell development and for stabilizing cell function.

In the West Africa study, Waterland and co-researchers found that levels of DNA methylation were higher at regions of five genes in children conceived during the peak rainy season months of August and September, when food would typically have been less available to their mothers.

According to Waterland, two of the five genes in which elevated DNA methylation occurred warrant further study because they are associated with risk of disease. Specifically, the SLITRK1 gene is associated with Tourette's syndrome, and the PAX8 gene is linked to .

The researchers attributed the epigenetic variation to dramatic seasonal differences in the kinds and amounts of foods available in the three subsistence-farming villages that were the focus of the study.

More information: An article in the March 2013 issue of Agricultural Research magazine tells more. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar13/nutrition0313.htm

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The epigenetics of increasing weight through the generations

Jul 15, 2008

Overweight mothers give birth to offspring who become even heavier, resulting in amplification of obesity across generations, said Baylor College of Medicine researchers in Houston who found that chemical changes in the ways ...

Maternal smoking causes changes in fetal DNA

May 18, 2011

Children whose mothers or grandmothers smoked during pregnancy are at increased risk of asthma in childhood, but the underlying causes of this are not well understood. Now a new study indicates changes in a process called ...

Recommended for you

NIH issues finalized policy on genomic data sharing

12 hours ago

The National Institutes of Health has issued a final NIH Genomic Data Sharing (GDS) policy to promote data sharing as a way to speed the translation of data into knowledge, products and procedures that improve health while ...

The genes behind the guardians of the airways

18 hours ago

Dysfunctions in cilia, tiny hair-like structures that protrude from the surface of cells, are responsible for a number of human diseases. However the genes involved in making cilia have remained largely elusive. ...

Cancer leaves a common fingerprint on DNA

Aug 25, 2014

Regardless of their stage or type, cancers appear to share a telltale signature of widespread changes to the so-called epigenome, according to a team of researchers. In a study published online in Genome Me ...

User comments