Research: Environment impacts gene performance
By Elizabeth Daley, Bay City News Service
November 14, 2006
OAKLAND (BCN) - Doctors and scientists at Children's Hospital
Oakland Research Institute say they have proven that a mother's
diet during pregnancy can impact the health of her grandchildren.
However, the 1,000 mothers studied over two years were "viable
yellow agouti mice," bred to be genetically identical, so
while study author Dr. David Martin says this study shows environmental
factors can affect a fetus for generations, he said he has no
recommendations for soon-to-be mothers, other than maintaining
good health during pregnancy.
The mice studied come from a variety bred to have an agouti gene
that causes them to be fat, "yellow," and diabetic.
According to Martin, the mice are also genetically identical.
Martin said genetically identical mice were chosen to make abnormal
gene performance extremely apparent to scientists.
Scientists discovered that when they fed vitamin supplements
to the mice during the middle of their pregnancies, their offspring
and grandchildren were born fatter and darker with brownish coats,
showing that the supplements impacted the agouti gene, which also
"There is no change in the gene itself. There is a change
in the behavior of the gene," said Martin, who believes this
study shows "that environmental factors affect the fetus
and the germ cells in that fetus."
"We don't know how many generations this effects,"
said Martin, excited to be part of a team that has proven genes
functions are not stagnant.
"There is a prejudice in the scientific community that everything
in a person is determined by their genes but this study shows
that is not necessarily so," said Martin.
"There is already evidence that similar things can happen
in human beings," said Martin, citing the Dutch famine of
1945 to 1946 as a famous example. "Germans cut off food to
the Netherlands and the children born in this era were affected.
Later in their lives they became obese," said Martin.
While Martin concedes that a similar study would be impossible
in humans, saying, "not only would it be unethical it would
take decades," the study, conducted by Martin and colleagues
Kenneth Beckman and Drs. Jennifer Cropley and Catherine Suter,
has illuminated the mystery of gene function.
The complete study can be found in the November issue of Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
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