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

Date:
March 11, 2013
Source:
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics
Summary:
Pioneering studies by a molecular geneticist 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.

ARS-funded research has found that seasonal fluctuations in the foods Gambian women eat around the time of conception can affect the development of genes in their unborn children.
Credit: Felicia Webb

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.

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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 epigenetic mechanisms. Those mechanisms can impact, for example, the levels at which an everyday biochemical process, DNA methylation, 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 hypothyroidism.

In a scientific article in PLoS Genetics, 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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Robert A. Waterland, Richard Kellermayer, Eleonora Laritsky, Pura Rayco-Solon, R. Alan Harris, Michael Travisano, Wenjuan Zhang, Maria S. Torskaya, Jiexin Zhang, Lanlan Shen, Mark J. Manary, Andrew M. Prentice. Season of Conception in Rural Gambia Affects DNA Methylation at Putative Human Metastable Epialleles. PLoS Genetics, 2010; 6 (12): e1001252 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001252

Cite This Page:

United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. "Epigenetics mechanism may help explain effects of mom's nutrition on her children's health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130311173754.htm>.
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. (2013, March 11). Epigenetics mechanism may help explain effects of mom's nutrition on her children's health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130311173754.htm
United States Department of Agriculture - Research, Education and Economics. "Epigenetics mechanism may help explain effects of mom's nutrition on her children's health." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130311173754.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

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