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Folic acid deficiency has multigenerational effects
Date:9/27/2013

Researchers from the universities of Calgary and Cambridge, UK, have discovered that a mutation in a gene necessary for the metabolism of folic acid not only impacts immediate offspring but can also have detrimental health effects, such as spina bifida and heart abnormalities, on subsequent generations. The animal study, published this week in the journal Cell, also sheds light on the molecular mechanism of folic acid (also known as folate) during development.

About one in 1,200 children are born with spina bifida. The detrimental effects of folic acid deficiency during pregnancy on development are well known. As a result Canada, and many other countries, have implemented folate fortification programs which require folic acid to be added to cereal products. The aim has been to reduce the incidence of developmental problems, including spina bifida. However, until now, very little was known about how folic acid deficiency caused the diverse range of health problems in offspring.

"Fortification programs have reduced the risk of health effects but not eliminated them completely," says Dr. Jay Cross, with the faculties of medicine and veterinary medicine. "Based on our research, we now believe that it may take more than one generation to eliminate the health problems caused by folate deficiency. In addition, we need to be thinking not just about our own genes and how they impact our health and development, but also those of our descendents."

Cross, also a member of the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, co-authored the study with Dr. Erica Watson from the University of Cambridge. Watson is a University of Calgary alumna and started the work during her PhD studies with Cross before moving to Cambridge.

Researchers from the university used mice for the study because their folic acid metabolism is very similar to humans. This enabled the researchers to explore how the molecular mechanism of folic acid deficiency impacted development,
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Contact: Gloria Visser-Niven
gvissern@ucalgary.ca
403-210-6615
University of Calgary
Source:Eurekalert

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