There has been increasing interest in the idea that lifestyle options or stressful events during a persons life might not just impact an individual at the time, but could send out a rippling that also affects most children. Known as epigenetics, the suggestion is that environmental factors and traumatic events can physically change the route a person’s genes are carried, and that this alteration can then be passed on if and when that person has children.
But a new study claims to have found that its not just modification of the DNA during a parents life that can be passed on: Unbelievably, changes to a specific protein associated with DNA can also be inherited , not just by their childrenbut also their grandchildren.
Epigenetics has largelyfocused on how life events from smoking to emotional and physical trauma can change howand what genes in a persons DNA are expressed. This expres, and thus the production of proteins, is generally to be covered by what are known as methyl groups. These chemical tagsattach to particular regions of DNA and act like a dimmer switching, turning up and down the rate at which certain genes are expressed. Evidence suggests that life events can alter where these methyl group attach to DNA, and that this can then be pass away from parent to infant.
The new research, however, decided to focus on another aspect of DNA. When the vastly long molecule is packaged into cells, DNA is wound around a particular protein called a histone, which effectively acts like a spool. Histones are able to control which sections of DNA get copied and carried, depending on which parts of the thread are allowed to unravel.Its already been established that environmental factors, such as diet and smoking, can change the structure of histones, but the researchers wanted to find out whetherthese changes had any impact on a father’schildren.
To test this, the researchers created mouse in which they had altered the information that codes for the structure of histones during sperm cell formation, and then appeared to see how this impacted their offspring. What they found was that these slight changes in the histones generated offspring that were both more susceptible to birth defectsand had lower rates of survival overall. In addition to that, the effect didnt only immediately impact the progeny, but was even felt two generations later.
“The study highlightings the critical role that fathers play in the health of their children and even grand-children, “explained Kimmins. “Since chemical adjustments on histones are susceptible to environmental exposures, the run opens new avenues of investigation for the possible prevention and treatment of illness of various kinds, affecting health across generations.”
This fascinating piece of research adds yet another aspect to epigenetics. However, its important to note that while they might have been able to show that altered histones can impact progeny, and that histones can be modified by environmental factors, there is still a bridge missing between the two.
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