Fruit flies pass down changes in their metabolism from father to son

December 5, 2014
Obesity -- like father, like son
Researchers can identify the obese flies by their red eyes: Due to the particularly sugary diet of their fathers, the genes for a red dye in the eye as well as other metabolism factors can be identified in the sons.Credit: MPI f. Immunobiology and Epigenetics/ A. Pospisilik

The consumption of a sugary banquet before sex can have far-reaching consequences for a fruit fly and its offspring: it makes the young flies more prone to obesity.

Together with researchers from Spain and Sweden, scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg have discovered that even a brief change in the diet of male triggers in the next generation. Specifically, high-sugar nutrition consumed one to two days before mating causes the male offspring to accumulate more body fat - but only if the young insects have a particularly high-sugar diet. Importantly, the international research team identified the first gene networks for generating such intergenerational responses. The food consumed by the father activates genes that can cause in the genome. These changes are inherited and alter metabolic gene control in the next generation. Moreover, the researchers discovered a similar gene network in humans and mice which also predicts their susceptibility to obesity.

Our DNA is a determining factor in our weight - obesity is largely due to our genes. That said, environmental inputs, particularly in parents or during early development, can also affect body weight through epigenetic changes. These modifications can be inherited, although they do not change the genetic code.

The Max Planck scientists in Freiburg have now discovered that the diet of male fruit flies can influence the body weight of their offspring in this way. The researchers fed the adult male flies with food of varying sugar content two days before mating. The flies that hatched from the eggs were then given normal or high-sugar food. For technical reasons, the researchers only carried out the tests on male flies; comparable results, however, would probably have been obtained using female flies.

The fathers' diet had no impact on sons that only consumed a . However, the weight pattern was very different if the young flies had eaten particularly sugary food: the young animals whose fathers had consumed very low or high sugar food tended to be overweight; in other words the offspring were obesity susceptible. They had a higher proportion of body fat and also ate more than the sons of fathers that consumed a balanced diet. "So there is a U-shaped effect here: extreme sugar values in the father's diet - be they high or low - have the greatest consequences for the next generation," explains Anita Öst from the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, who now researches at Linköping University in Sweden. The effect on body weight is not transmitted any further, however, as the scientists did not observe it in the grandchildren's generation.

It appears that the inheritance of the father's nutritional status is dependent on the methylation pattern in the proteins that package DNA. Methyl appendages, which are small chemical groups, control how compactly DNA is packaged. The level of gene expression depends on this. Genetically modified flies, in which different methylation enzymes are partly blocked, do not pass on their nutritional status to their sons. "We tested different fly mutants and identified seven genes which control the packaging of the DNA," reports Adelheid Lempradl from the Freiburg-based Max Planck Institute. In the case of fathers with a high-sugar diet, the packaging of the DNA in the sons is loosened so that more metabolism genes can be expressed. This effect endures throughout the life of the fly.

It appears that a similar mechanism may also exist in humans. The researchers evaluated the data from tests on Pima Indians - a group of North American indigenous people who frequently suffer from obesity - and monozygotic twins. The two studies from 2005 and 2008 compare normal weight and obese individuals and their genes. "The data show that obese people have the same gene signature as the fruit flies. Thus, susceptibility to a high in humans is also predicted by certain methyltransferases being less active," explains J. Andrew Pospisilik, Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics. According to the researchers, the same genes also regulate weight in mice.

Explore further: High-sugar diet in fathers can lead to obese offspring

Related Stories

High-sugar diet in fathers can lead to obese offspring

December 4, 2014
A new study shows that increasing sugar in the diet of male fruit flies for just 1 or 2 days before mating can cause obesity in their offspring through alterations that affect gene expression in the embryo. There is also ...

Obese dads pass on predisposition to obesity and metabolic disorders to their kids

July 11, 2013
If you are obese and hope to be a father, here's another reason to lose weight: your children and grandchildren may inherit your waistline or metabolic disorders. That's because scientists have discovered in mice that obese ...

Obese male mice father offspring with higher levels of body fat

June 16, 2013
Male mice who were fed a high-fat diet and became obese were more likely to father offspring who also had higher levels of body fat, a new Ohio University study finds.

How genes link a mother's diet to the risk of obesity in her offspring

September 2, 2014
Many research studies have made it clear that a mother's eating habits prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy and during lactation have a profound impact on her offspring and their propensity for developing weight problems, ...

Lipids, not calories, trigger a strong insulin response

October 27, 2014
Insulin is a reaction to what we eat: Especially food with plenty of carbohy-drates rises the blood sugar level, and as a consequence, more of the sugar-lowering hormone Insulin is produced and secreted. Like that, the Insulin ...

Recommended for you

Study shows wearable robotic exoskeletons improve walking for children with cerebral palsy

August 24, 2017
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy (CP)—caused by neurological damage before, during or after birth—is the most common movement disorder in children, limiting mobility and independence ...

New understanding of how muscles work

August 23, 2017
Muscle malfunctions may be as simple as a slight strain after exercise or as serious as heart failure and muscular dystrophy. A new technique developed at McGill now makes it possible to look much more closely at how sarcomeres, ...

Scientists find RNA with special role in nerve healing process

August 22, 2017
Scientists may have identified a new opening to intervene in the process of healing peripheral nerve damage with the discovery that an "anti-sense" RNA (AS-RNA) is expressed when nerves are injured. Their experiments in mice ...

Mouse model of human immune system inadequate for stem cell studies

August 22, 2017
A type of mouse widely used to assess how the human immune system responds to transplanted stem cells does not reflect what is likely to occur in patients, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School ...

Researchers offer new targets for drugs against fatty liver disease and liver cancer

August 22, 2017
There may no silver bullet for treating liver cancer or fatty liver disease, but knowing the right targets will help scientists develop the most effective treatments. Researchers in Sweden have just identified a number of ...

Link between cells associated with aging and bone loss

August 21, 2017
Mayo Clinic researchers have reported a causal link between senescent cells - the cells associated with aging and age-related disease - and bone loss in mice. Targeting these cells led to an increase in bone mass and strength. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.