Could our mother's diet at the time we are conceived set the course for our future health? This intriguing question is at the heart of a new study based on an "experiment of nature" being conducted by Wellcome Trust-funded researchers.
We inherit our DNA the genetic blueprint that determines our make-up from our parents: 50% of our DNA from our mothers and 50% from our fathers. Apart from the occasional mutation, deletion or duplication of information, this DNA remains unchanged between generations.
The environment, for example our diet, whether we smoke, and the toxins that we encounter in our daily life, can cause changes in how our genes are expressed in other words, how they function and these changes can be inherited, even when the DNA sequence itself does not change. These so-called "epigenetic" effects can occur through a process known as DNA methylation, where methyl caps bind to our DNA and act like dimmer switches on our genes.
Now, Dr Branwen Hennig and colleagues from the Medical Research Council (MRC) International Nutrition Group based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have been awarded 360,000 from the Wellcome Trust to look at whether a mother's diet during pregnancy can influence these epigenetic effects.
The study will be conducted at the MRC Laboratories in Keneba, The Gambia, where the seasonal variability of food provides the ideal environment to conduct an "experiment of nature".
"During the 'hungry season' people eat mainly what they have in store, such as cereals and dried food," explains Ms Paula Dominguez-Salas, who will conduct the fieldwork in The Gambia. "They are working in the fields and have a very high energy expenditure, but their intake is very low. The 'harvest season' is the other way round and food, including fresh foods, is in relatively plentiful supply."
The researchers will measure the diets of women in early pregnancy for nutrients which a
|Contact: Craig Brierley|