Scientists have discovered evidence that environmental influences experienced by a father can be passed down to the next generation, "reprogramming" how genes function in offspring.
The new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Texas at Austin, shows that environmental cues—in this case, diet—influence genes in mammals from one generation to the next, evidence that until now has been sparse.
These insights, coupled with previous human epidemiological studies, suggest that paternal environmental effects may play a more important role in complex diseases such as diabetes and heart disease than previously believed.
"Knowing what your parents were doing before you were conceived is turning out to be important in determining what disease risk factors you may be carrying," said Oliver J. Rando, principal investigator for the study.
To test their hypothesis Rando and colleagues fed different diets to two groups of male mice.
The first group received a standard diet, while the second received a low-protein diet. To control for maternal influences, all females were fed the same, standard diet.
Rando and colleagues observed that offspring of the mice fed the low-protein diet exhibited a marked increase in the genes responsible for lipid and cholesterol synthesis in comparison to offspring of the control group fed the standard diet.
The study has been published this week in Cell.