A Parent's Lifestyle Choices Could Play a Role in Altering Their Child's DNA
The first evidence that shows how your lifestyle could alter your child's genes and their children's genes has appeared.
Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker
"Pregnant women are to be treated well," I recall my friend telling me. "How well?" I asked. He said while a woman is pregnant, she should be unburdened by any psychological or physical troubles. He was quite serious as he told me. He said that so long as the mother is happy, the baby will be happy. At the time, I thought it was a nice superstition. But researchers are providing evidence that one's lifestyle choices may add to the blueprint of the next generation — a thought geneticists considered impossible.
Helen Thomson writes for New Scientist that past research showed “girls born to Dutch women who were pregnant during a long famine at the end of the Second World War had twice the usual risk of developing schizophrenia.”
Geneticists are puzzled when presented with cases such as these, as environmental factors aren't supposed to affect the genetic information contained within a sperm and egg. We are supposed to be born a “clean slate” as far as environmental influences go. But researchers have observed some human genes keeping some of these environmental markings, evading the cleanup process.
A group of researchers looked into the methylation patterns in fetal cells that later inform the fetus' own sperm or eggs. The chemical methylation has had a precedence in previous studies, where it proved to play a role in altering the gene expression in early childhood in humans and other animals. When too much stress is repeatedly put on an infant, the methylation process alters how well the child responds to stress later on in life.
Azim Surani and colleagues were surprised to find in their own studies that some of the fetal cells were not reset, as they would have expected.
Surani said to Thompson:
"However, about 2 to 5 percent of methylation across the genome escaped this reprogramming."
The researchers noted that the affected genes were involved in certain metabolic functions that may lead to obesity, as well as certain neurological processes that could lead to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The good news is it seems there's a narrow window of time for these environmental conditions to be passed on. However, Surani is cautious about making any further conclusions until his team figures out why these genes manage to evade detection during the cleanup process.
Read more about the study at New Scientist.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
What do we see from watching birds move across the country?
- A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
- The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
- Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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