(NaturalNews) Passing on genes to children may have little to do with fate, coincidence or destiny. Maternal care is very important for healthy fetal development, but there may be even more at play in genetic development.
New research suggests that gene expression can, in fact, be "prefabricated" or "controlled" by the father at the time of conception through personal health habits.
Father's weight at time of conception influences gene expression of offspring
Published in the journal Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, this new research suggests that a father's body weight and nutrition levels during conception can greatly influence the gene expression passed on to their offspring.
According to the findings, the gene expression of offspring is first and foremost dependent on the father's health decisions leading up to and during conception. Prior belief supported that genes were inherent, random and uncontrollable, but this research suggests that a father's health decisions and body mass play an important role in helping their child prevent degenerative disease and premature aging later in life.
The research shows how obese fathers can ultimately cause altered gene expression in the pancreas and fat stores of their newborn. This, in turn, can lead the unsuspecting child to develop conditions like diabetes and obesity at a young age, even if they were on a decent diet.
Metabolic tissue samples of offspring from obese fathers show compromised gene expression
In the study, one group of male rats was fed a high-fat diet. The adult male rats became obese and developed diabetes. At the time of conception, the male rats passed on altered gene expression to their offspring. The offspring's two most important metabolic tissues, the pancreas and fat tissues, showed altered gene expression that perpetuated a future of obesity and premature aging. These altered genes set the offspring up for early onset of diseases and cancers during the study.
"While scientists have focused on how the maternal diet affects children's health, this study is part of exciting new research exploring the impact of paternal diet on offspring risk of obesity," said Margaret Morris, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Pharmacology School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. "The fact that similar gene markers were affected in pancreas and fat tissue tells us that some of the same pathways are being influenced, possibly from the earliest stages of life. It will be important to follow up these findings, and to learn more about when and how to intervene to reduce the impact of poor paternal metabolic health on offspring."
Morris and her colleagues separated two groups of male rats and studied the genes that were passed on to offspring. A lean group of male rats on a healthy diet were separated from obese rats on a high-fat diet. To isolate the mothers' influence, the researchers used similar lean female rats exhibiting good health and mated them with both the unhealthy and healthy rats. The offspring of both groups was examined.
The obese male rats were ultimately responsible for the most unhealthy offspring which produced early onset of degenerative disease. These unhealthy offspring showed poor ability to respond to a glucose challenge, even when they were fed healthy diets after birth.
Their pancreatic islets showed wild changes in gene expression that served as a precursor for disease. The rats born of healthy fathers didn't show these changes in gene expression.
Furthermore, fat tissue samples of the rats showed how genes were altered, changes that made it difficult for the rats of obese fathers to produce insulin and control blood glucose.
Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal says, "This report is the first step in understanding exactly how the nutrition and health of fathers affects his children, for better or worse."
"For a long time, we've known that the nutrition and health status of women who are pregnant or who want to get pregnant is critical to the health of her offspring, and we've also suspected that the same is true for fathers to a lesser degree," Weissmann said.
This study shows that the weight and health of fathers play a vital role in passing on insulin-resistant conditions to their future offspring.