Can you be programmed to be fat?

Yes, it seems so, at least if you are a banana fly. A lot of research shows the effect an environmental impact in one generation can have on the next and possibly on several generations ahead. This type of heredity is believed to be regulated by epigenetic (Greek: epi-over, genetics) programs that regulate how genes are used. One could say, if using computers as comparison, that the genes are the hardware and the epigenetic the software that determines how the genes are used.

Fathers who eat a lot of sugar will have fat sons. By using the banana fly, Drosophila melanogaster, which has a very short generation time, we have been able to show that if a father has a diet that contains much sugar the epigenetic programs in his sons are changed. These programs regulate the genes needed for i.e. fat production.

We find evidence indicating similar programs in mice and men, but more research is needed. The next question is naturally if epigenetic programs can be reprogrammed in adults. If so, we may eventually develop new therapies for treating obesity. However, more studies are needed to answer this question.

How is information transferred to the next generation?

We have chosen to study how a father’s diet affects the next generation since the information is carried in the sperm or the sperm fluid. What we have seen is that the amount of mRNA varies depending on what the fly has eaten, but we still do not know if it is the difference in mRNA that modulates the epigenetic programmes in the next generation.

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Video about the research 
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Fruit flies helping to solve the riddle of obesity

Listen to Anita Öst, Senior Lecturer, presenting her research about how our weight is guided by our lifestyle and our genes.

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