Two studies show father's diet can impact on offspring

January 4, 2016 by Bob Yirka report
Human sperm stained for semen quality testing in the clinical laboratory. Credit: Bobjgalindo/Wikipedia

(MedicalXpress)—Two teams of researchers conducting independent experiments have found evidence that indicates that what a male mouse eats prior to mating with a female mouse can have an impact on the offspring that result. The first group, from several institutions in China, ran experiments testing the impact of male mice eating a high fat diet, on offspring, while the second team, with members from the U.S. and Canada, tested the impact of a low-protein diet by male mice prior to siring offspring. Both teams describe their experiments and results in papers published in the journal Science.

For many years it has been assumed that the only impact male mammals can have on their , due purely to mating, is from the DNA they carry in their sperm. In recent years, however, some study results have suggested that they can have another impact due to what are known as transfer RNAs (tRNAs). These two new studies add more evidence, suggesting that tRNA fragments can carry information that adversely impacts offspring.

In the first study, the team fed one group of mice a , while another group was fed a normal diet. Sperm was harvested from both groups and used to impregnate . Offspring had their weight monitored along with their level of glucose intolerance and . The team repots that the offspring of the males fed the high fat diets did not gain more weight than those from the control group, but they did develop an impaired resistance to insulin and —precursors to diabetes. To ensure that the change was due to tRNA fragments, the team ran the same experiment again, but the second time around they purified the RNA before injection into the eggs. The resulting offspring developed intolerance to glucose but did not develop insulin resistance.

In the second study, the researchers conducted the same type of experiment but had the male study group eat a low-protein diet. The team reports they found no differences between the offspring except for changes to a group of genes that are responsible for the development of stem cells.

Though not studied yet, it appears likely that the same results would occur with humans, which suggests that couples looking to have children ought to be aware of or modify the diets of both potential parents.

Explore further: Maternal low protein diet promotes diabetic phenotypes in offspring

More information: 1. U. Sharma et al. Biogenesis and function of tRNA fragments during sperm maturation and fertilization in mammals, Science (2015). DOI: 10.1126/science.aad6780

Several recent studies link parental environments to phenotypes in subsequent generations. Here, we investigate the mechanism by which paternal diet affects offspring metabolism. Protein restriction in mice affects small RNA levels in mature sperm, with decreased let-7 levels and increased levels of 5′ fragments of glycine tRNAs. tRNA fragments are scarce in testicular sperm, but are gained as sperm mature in the epididymis. Epididymosomes—vesicles that fuse with sperm during epididymal transit—carry RNA payloads matching those of mature sperm, and deliver RNAs to immature sperm in vitro. Functionally, tRNA-Gly-GCC fragments repress genes associated with the endogenous retroelement MERVL, both in ES cells and embryos. Our results shed light on small RNA biogenesis and its dietary regulation during post-testicular sperm maturation and link tRNA fragments to regulation of endogenous retroelements active in the preimplantation embryo.

2. Q. Chen et al. Sperm tsRNAs contribute to intergenerational inheritance of an acquired metabolic disorder, Science (2015). DOI: 10.1126/science.aad7977

Increasing evidence indicates that offspring metabolic disorders can result from the father's diet, but the mechanism remains unclear. Here, in a paternal high-fat diet (HFD) mouse model, we show that a subset of sperm tRNA-derived small RNAs (tsRNAs), mainly from 5′ tRNA halves and ranging in size from 30 to 34 nucleotides, exhibit changes in expression profiles and RNA modifications. Injection of sperm tsRNA fractions from HFD male into normal zygotes generated metabolic disorders in the F1 offspring and altered gene expression of metabolic pathways in early embryos and islets of F1 offspring, which was unrelated to DNA methylation at CpG-enriched regions. Hence, sperm tsRNAs represent a type of paternal epigenetic factor that may mediate intergenerational inheritance of diet-induced metabolic disorder.

Related Stories

Maternal low protein diet promotes diabetic phenotypes in offspring

September 2, 2014
Millions of people throughout the world are affected by diabetes. In particular, the rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes is associated with global increases in obesity and changes in diet. There is also a genetic component ...

Male offspring get the most benefit from pregnant mother's exercise

April 8, 2015
Male offspring appear to benefit more than females from the positive effects of exercise during pregnancy, an animal study by UNSW medical researchers has found.

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.

Fathers' diet, bodyweight and health at conception may contribute to obesity in offspring

January 16, 2014
Research involving rats suggests that there is a biological link between paternal diet, bodyweight and health at the time of conception and the health of his offspring. In a new research report published online in The FASEB ...

Pre-pregnancy diet affects the health of future offspring

July 2, 2011
Poor maternal diet before conception can result in offspring with reduced birth weights and increased risk of developing type II diabetes and obesity.

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 ...

Recommended for you

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation via cannabinoids

July 18, 2017
Chemical compounds called cannabinoids are found in marijuana and also are produced naturally in the body from omega-3 fatty acids. A well-known cannabinoid in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for some of its ...


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.