Washington DC: In a recent study researchers used mice that had become obese and had developed type 2 diabetes due to a high-fat diet and then obtained their offspring solely through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) from isolated oocytes and sperm, so that changes in the offspring could only be passed on via these cells.
The offspring were carried and born by healthy surrogate mothers.
This enabled the researchers from the Institute of Experimental Genetics to rule out additional factors such as the behavior of the parents and influences of the mother during pregnancy and lactation.
The director of the study Prof. Johannes Beckers said that the results showed that both oocytes and sperm passed on epigenetic information, which particularly in the female offspring led to severe obesity.
In the male offspring, by contrast, the blood glucose level was more affected than in the female siblings. The data also show that like in humans the maternal contribution to the change in metabolism in the offspring is greater than the paternal contribution.
Prof. Martin Hrab De Angelis said that this kind of epigenetic inheritance of a metabolic disorder due to an unhealthy diet could be another major cause for the dramatic global increase in the prevalence of diabetes since the 1960s.
The increase in diabetic patients observed throughout the world can hardly be explained by mutations in the genes themselves (DNA) because the increase has been too fast.
Since epigenetic inheritance - as opposed to genetic inheritance - is in principle reversible, new possibilities to influence the development of obesity and diabetes arise from these observations, according to the scientists.
The research is published in the journal Nature Genetics.