A European study has found that increasing sugar in the diet of male fruit flies for just one or two days before mating can cause obesity in their offspring through changes in the embryo’s genes.
As there is also evidence that a similar system regulates obesity susceptibility in mice and humans.
The research, which is published in the journal Cell, provides insights into how certain metabolic traits are inherited and may help determine whether they can be altered.
Research has shown that various factors that are passed on by parents can affect offspring’s metabolism and body type.
Investigators led by Dr J. Andrew Pospisilik of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Germany sought to understand whether normal fluctuations in a parent’s diet might have an impact on the next generation.
Through mating experiments with fruit flies, the scientists found that dietary interventions in males could change the body composition of offspring, with increased sugar leading to obesity in the next generation.
“It’s very early days for our understanding of how parental experiences can stably reprogram offspring physiology, lifelong,” says Dr Pospisilik. “The mechanisms mapped here, which seem in some way to be conserved in mouse and man, provide a seed for research that has the potential to profoundly change views and practices in medicine.”
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