Previous studies have revealed that sugar has the ability to influence the brain in a manner similar to an addictive opiate. A study published in the journal Cell has revealed that sugar has the ability to influence DNA and produce epigenetic changes which can be passed onto children with an increased susceptibility to obesity.
Fruit flies were as the basis for the experiment and the scientists found that dietary interventions in males could change the body composition of offspring, with increased sugar leading to obesity in the subsequent generation. High dietary sugar increased gene expression through epigenetic changes, which affect gene activity without changing the DNA’s underlying sequence.
“To use computer terms, if our genes are the hardware, our epigenetics is the software that decides how the hardware is used,” said Dr. Öst a lead author of the study. “It turns out that the father’s diet reprograms the epigenetic ‘software’ so that genes needed for fat production are turned on in their sons.”
Epigenetic changes are reversible and the researchers have hypothesized that it might be possible to reprogram obese epigenetic tendencies to lean epigenetic programs. “At the moment, we and other researchers are manipulating the epigenetics in early life, but we don’t know if it is possible to rewrite an adult program,” said Dr. Öst.
“It’s very early days for our understanding of how parental experiences can stably reprogram offspring physiology, lifelong. 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,” said Dr. Pospisilik, a co-author of the study.
Anita Öst, Adelheid Lempradl, Eduard Casas, Melanie Weigert, Theodor Tiko, Merdin Deniz, Lorena Pantano, Ulrike Boenisch, Pavel M. Itskov, Marlon Stoeckius, Marius Ruf, Nikolaus Rajewsky, Gunter Reuter, Nicola Iovino, Carlos Ribeiro, Mattias Alenius, Steffen Heyne, Tanya Vavouri, J. Andrew Pospisilik. Paternal Diet Defines Offspring Chromatin State and Intergenerational Obesity. Cell, 2014; 159 (6): 1352 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.11.005