Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Food & Beverage Analysis
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Mother's Diet Modifies Child's DNA

Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Bookmark and Share
Evidence opens up the possibility that a mother’s diet before pregnancy could permanently affect many aspects of her children’s lifelong health.

A mother’s diet before conception can permanently affect how her child’s genes function, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

Researchers from the MRC International Nutrition Group, based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and MRC Unit, The Gambia, utilised a unique ‘experiment of nature’ in rural Gambia, where the population’s dependence on own grown foods and a markedly seasonal climate impose a large difference in people’s dietary patterns between rainy and dry seasons.

Through a selection process involving over 2,000 women, the researchers enrolled pregnant women who conceived at the peak of the rainy season (84 women) and the peak of the dry season (83 women). By measuring the concentrations of nutrients in their blood, and later analysing blood and hair follicle samples from their 2-8 month old infants, they found that a mother’s diet before conception had a significant effect on the properties of her child’s DNA.

While a child’s genes are inherited directly from their parents, how these genes are expressed is controlled through ‘epigenetic’ modifications to the DNA. One such modification involves tagging gene regions with chemical compounds called methyl groups and results in silencing the genes. The addition of these compounds requires key nutrients including folate, vitamins B2, B6 and B12, choline and methionine.

Experiments in animals have already shown that environmental influences before conception can lead to epigenetic changes that affect the offspring. A 2003 study found that a female mouse’s diet can change her offspring’s coat colour by permanently modifying DNA methylation. But until this latest research, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the MRC, it was unknown whether such effects also occur in humans.

Senior author Dr Branwen Hennig, Senior Investigator Scientist at the MRC Gambia Unit and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Our results represent the first demonstration in humans that a mother’s nutritional well-being at the time of conception can change how her child’s genes will be interpreted, with a life-long impact.”

The researchers found that infants from rainy season conceptions had consistently higher rates of methyl groups present in all six genes they studied, and that these were linked to various nutrient levels in the mother’s blood. Strong associations were found with two compounds in particular (homocysteine and cysteine), and the mothers’ body mass index (BMI) had an additional influence. However, although these epigenetic effects were observed, their functional consequences remain unknown.

Andrew Prentice, Professor of International Nutrition at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and head of the Nutrition Theme at the MRC Unit, The Gambia, said: “Our on-going research is yielding strong indications that the methylation machinery can be disrupted by nutrient deficiencies and that this can lead to disease. Our ultimate goal is to define an optimal diet for mothers-to-be that would prevent defects in the methylation process. Pre-conceptional folic acid is already used to prevent defects in embryos. Now our research is pointing towards the need for a cocktail of nutrients, which could come from the diet or from supplements.”

The authors note that their study was limited by including only one blood sampling point during early pregnancy, but estimates of pre-conception nutrient concentrations were calculated using results from non-pregnant women sampled throughout a whole calendar year. The authors also plan to increase the sample size in further studies.

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK; the Medical Research Council (MRC); the UK Department for International Development (DFID); the NIH/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, USA; and the USDA, USA. Additional institutions involved in the study included the University of North Carolina, USA; University of British Columbia, Canada; and SRI International, USA.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Scientific News
The MaxSignal Colistin ELISA Test Kit from Bioo Scientific
Kit can help prevent the antibiotic apocalypse by keeping last resort drugs out of the food supply.
Kitchen Utensils Can Spread Bacteria Between Foods
In a recent study researchers found that produce that contained bacteria would contaminate other produce items through the continued use of knives or graters—the bacteria would latch on to the utensils commonly found in consumers' homes and spread to the next item.
GMO Food Animals Should be Judged by Product, Not Process
In a world with a burgeoning demand for meat, milk and eggs, regulatory policies around the use of biotechnologies in agriculture need to be based on the safety and attributes of those foods rather than on the methods used to produce them, says a UC Davis animal scientist.
Acetaldehyde and Formaldehyde Content in Foods
Korean researchers have determined the content of the toxic and carcinogenic aldehydes, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, in a variety of food groups.
Increasing Vitamin D Supplementation
New study from ETH Zurich finds that elderly women should consume more vitamin D than previously recommended during the winter months.
IARC Monographs Evaluate Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat
Processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
Nanoparticles in Foods Raise Safety Questions
Nanoparticles can make foods like jawbreaker candies brighter and creamier and keep them fresh longer. But researchers are still in the dark about what the tiny additives do once inside our bodies.
Arsenic Found in Many U.S. Red Wines
A new University of Washington study that tested 65 wines from America’s top four wine-producing states — California, Washington, New York and Oregon — found all but one have arsenic levels that exceed what’s allowed in drinking water.
Viruses Join Fight Against Harmful Bacteria
Engineered viruses could combat human disease and improve food safety.
Plastic for Dinner
Roughly a quarter of the fish sampled from fish markets in California and Indonesia contained man-made debris according to a study from the University of California, Davis, and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia.

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos