London: A new study demonstrates that increasing sugar in the diet of male fruit flies for just a day before mating could cause obesity in their offspring.
There is also evidence that a similar system regulates susceptibility to obesity in mice and humans.
The research provides insights into how certain metabolic traits are inherited and may help investigators determine whether they can be altered.
If our genes are the hardware, our epigenetics is the software that decides how the hardware is used.
"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," said J. Andrew Pospisilik of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Germany.
Through mating experiments in fruit flies, the scientists found that dietary interventions in males could change the body composition of their offspring, with increased sugar leading to obesity in the next generation.
Because epigenetic programmes are somewhat plastic, the investigators suspect that it might be possible to reprogramme obese epigenetic programmes to lean epigenetic programmes.
"At the moment, we and other researchers are manipulating the epigenetics in early life but we do not know if it is possible to rewrite an adult programme," the authors said.
The research appeared in the Cell Press journal Cell.