London: A new study has revealed that obese fathers may be putting their daughters at risk for diabetes-like diseases.
‘Epigenetic’ chemical tweaks to the genes alter how they are expressed in the offspring, according to the study at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Margaret Morris, a researcher in obesity and diabetes, and her colleagues put one group of rats on a high-fat diet. A control group was fed a normal diet. Unsurprisingly, those on the high-fat diet became overweight and showed two hallmarks of type-2 diabetes.
When Morris`s team went on to examine the obese rats` female offspring, they found that these too had problems regulating insulin and glucose levels. The healthy fathers, however, had correspondingly healthy daughters.
Because the DNA code itself remained unchanged, Morris`s team suggested that the changes in gene expression are epigenetic.
However, according to Stephen O`Rahilly, a clinical biochemist at the University of Cambridge, UK, “the difference in glucose tolerance between these animals is pretty slim, and the number of animals in the study was too few to give a robust signal".
What`s more, it`s still not clear whether these changes are caused by a lifelong fatty diet, or whether there are crucial periods in a father`s development when his sperm are affected by such a diet.
Whether this study translates directly to humans remains to be seen and O`Rahilly warned that it would be "utterly premature" and "dangerous" to translate these findings to humans.
The study is published in ‘Nature’.