Researchers studying the effects of the paternal diet of male fruit flies on the metabolic epigenetic and phenotypic profiles of their offspring have published their findings in the journal Cell. They report that short-term changes to sugar intake of the father were able to influence obesity of future offspring.
Prof. Wolf Reik, Head of the Epigenetics and Chromatin Programme, Babraham Institute, said:
“There is great interest in the possibility that epigenetic information in our bodies, which is affected by nutritional or environmental influences, can be passed on to children or grandchildren. This is called intergenerational epigenetic inheritance. This has been observed in several animal models recently in which altered diet led to intergenerational effects on the metabolism of offspring, through inheritance of epigenetic marks in sperm.
“In the current model in fruit flies, exposure of fathers to sugar resulted in altered chromatin states in sperm and obesity in offspring. Interestingly, similar chromatin pathways were found to be altered in lean versus obese mice and humans (in defined genetic backgrounds). It remains to be established whether in mammals too this altered metabolic regulation can be the outcome of a particular diet in the parental generation. There is great interest in this question because of the global obesity epidemic in humans.”
Dr Nick Priest, Lecturer in Evolutionary Genetics, University of Bath, said:
“Though very useful for basic research on diet-associated inheritance, this research provides few clues about how paternal diet affects health and well-being. We are still a long way from knowing how this mechanism influences how animals live or how many M&M’s a dad would have to eat for his kids to be born obese.”
Prof. Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London, said:
“This is an elegant study showing that feeding ripe bananas to fruitfly dads can make their offspring fatter epigenetically, even if they never meet.
“While possible in humans, we don’t yet know the effect or importance. However it does help to balance the pressure on parents and should make fathers think more about healthy eating – and avoid too many bananas (if you’re a fly).”
‘Paternal diet defines offspring chromatin state and intergenerational obesity’ by Anita Ӧst et al. published in Cell on Thursday 4 December 2014.