A new study shows that increasing sugar in the diet of male fruit flies for just one or two days before mating can cause obesity in their offspring through alterations that affect gene expression in the embryo.
Through mating experiments in Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit flies, the researchers found that dietary interventions in males could change the body composition of offspring, with increased sugar leading to obesity in the next generation. High dietary sugar increased gene expression through epigenetic changes, which affect gene activity without changing the DNA’s underlying sequence.
“To use computer terms, if our genes are the hardware, our epigenetics is the software that decides how the hardware is used,” explains Dr. Öst. “It turns out that the father’s diet reprograms the epigenetic ‘software’ so that genes needed for fat production are turned on in their sons.”
Potential to change views and practices
Because epigenetic programs are somewhat plastic, the investigators suspect that it might be possible to reprogram obese epigenetic programs to lean epigenetic programs.
“At the moment, we and other researchers are manipulating the epigenetics in early life, but we don’t know if it is possible to rewrite an adult program,” says Dr. Öst.
The fruit fly models and experiments that the team designed will be valuable resources for the scientific community. Because the flies reproduce quickly, they can allow investigators to quickly map out the details of how nutrition and other environmental stimuli affect epigenetics and whether or not they can be modulated, both early and later in life.
“It’s very early days for our understanding of how parental experiences can stably reprogramme offspring physiology, lifelong. The mechanisms mapped here, which seem in some way to be conserved in mouse and man, provide a seed for research that has the potential to profoundly change views and practices in medicine,” says Dr. Pospisilik.
Article: Paternal diet defines offspring chromatin state and intergenerational obesity av A. Öst, A. Lempradl, E. Casas, M. Weigert, T. Tiko, M. Deniz, L. Pantano, U. Boenisch, P. M. Itskov, M. Stoeckius, M. Ruf, N. Rajewsky, G. Reuter, N. Iovino, C. Ribeiro, M. Alenius, S. Heyne, T. Vavouri och J. A. Pospisilik. Cell 4 december 2014. http://www.cell.com/