A Pregnant Mother’s Diet May Turn the Genes Around
By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
Published: October 7, 2003
</font><blockquote><font size=“1” face=“Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif”>quote:</font><hr /><font size=“2” face=“Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif”> With the help of some fat yellow mice, scientists have discovered exactly how a mother’s diet can permanently alter the functioning of genes in her offspring without changing the genes themselves.
The unusual strain of mouse carries a kind of trigger near the gene that determines not only the color of its coat but also its predisposition to obesity, diabetes and cancer. When pregnant mice were fed extra vitamins and supplements, the supplements interacted with the trigger in the fetal mice and shut down the gene. As a result, obese yellow mothers gave birth to standard brown baby mice that grew up lean and healthy.
Scientists have long known that what pregnant mothers eat — whether they are mice, fruit flies or humans — can profoundly affect the susceptibility of their offspring to disease. But until now they have not understood why, said Dr. Randy Jirtle, a professor of radiation oncology at Duke and senior investigator of the study, which was reported in the Aug. 1 issue of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
The research is a milestone in the relatively new science of epigenetics, the study of how environmental factors like diet, stress and maternal nutrition can change gene function without altering the DNA sequence in any way.
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