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Eating Habits Related to Sperm Epigenome

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The metabolic stage of parents can have important implications for the health of offspring. By studying sperm epigenomes, researchers have broken down genetic make-up to find out how a father's weight can affect the eating behaviors of a child.

by / Views 353 / January 1, 2016

Want another reason to start eating better in the new year? A team led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen released surprising results showing that moderately obese men display different epigenetic marks on their sperm than lean men. They also found that bariatric surgery in massively obese men directly connects to changes in the process of sperm methylation.

Researchers studied differences in sperm epigenomes of both lean and obese men and in the sperm of obese men before and after bariatric surgery, also known as “weight-loss” surgery.

Can a father’s environment be encoded in their sperm?

The team’s findings seem to prove the idea that environment can be encoded in sperm and even have potential effects on embryos. An emerging body of evidence suggests that both mothers’ and fathers’ metabolic status can have major effects on germ cells, ultimately affecting the potential health of the child.

Two dozen Danish men between the ages of 24 and 40 were classified as either lean (BMI of 20-25) or obese (BMI of more than 29.7). Each man provided an ejaculate sample and the sperm’s genomic DNA were scanned for methylation patterns and measured for levels of small, noncoding RNAs, which help regulate epigenetic changes. Methylation is a critical process in which a strand of DNA after replication is modified and placed with a methyl group to regulate the expression of genes. The team discovered significantly different levels of DNA methylation between the lean and obese volunteers in over 9,000 genes. Of those genes studied, 274 were linked to appetite control, a natural brain function.

Sperm samples were also collected from 6 massively obese men with BMIs of over 33.8, who were undergoing gastric bypass surgery. Sperm samples were collected one week before, after, and one year after the surgery, and analysis of the sperm revealed that over 1,509 genes had altered methylation patterns after just one week. After one year, that number increased to 3,910 genes.

These findings suggest that obese men have genetic information that could ultimately affect eating habits of their children. However, these behaviors can change if the obese man loses weight. Although this study does not show exactly what is or has been transmitted to children, it does show that the genetic behavior and influence of epigenetic marks may impact brain function and development.

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

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