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Surprising Science

How What We Eat Changes Our Genes

What if material from our food actually made its way into the innermost control centers of our cells, taking charge of fundamental gene expression? Actually, that is what happens.

What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers at the Nanjing University of China have found evidence of rice, wheat, potatoes and cabbage in the microRNA of individuals’ blood, confirming that, down to our most basic genetic material, we really are what we eat. Researchers also found that what we eat can influence which genes our body expresses: “a specific rice microRNA was shown to bind to and inhibit the activity of receptors controlling the removal of LDL—’bad’ cholesterol—from the bloodstream.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The revelation that plant microRNAs play a role in controlling human physiology highlights the fact that our bodies are highly integrated ecosystems. The study’s lead author, Chen-Yu Zhang, says the findings may also illuminate our understanding of co-evolution, “a process in which genetic changes in one species trigger changes in another. For example, our ability to digest the lactose in milk after infancy arose after we domesticated cattle. Could the plants we cultivated have altered us as well?”

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