The offspring of women who were given micronutrient supplements (minerals needed in small quantities, such as iron, iodine and vitamin A) before they became pregnant had gene modifications at birth as well as when they were tested at 9 months.
The changes to the genes, called methylation, have previously been associated with the development of the immune system, although this study did not provide direct evidence that the activity of these genes has changed. The research, funded by the BBSRC, was published today in the journal Human Molecular Genetics in advance online publication (DOI number DDS026).
Professor Nabeel Affara, lead author of the study from the University of Cambridge, said: "The mechanism by which micronutrients influence methylation changes is still to be worked out, but it is known from other work that the genes of the immune system undergo such changes as immune function develops, particularly in early postnatal stages and early childhood.
"These changes are part of the normal development of the immune system provided adequate nutrition is available. Where this is not the case, different patterns of methylation may occur, altering the activity of key genes and therefore potentially the effectiveness of the immune system. The result is likely to be reduced ability to fight infection and hence susceptibility to infectious diseases."
The study used DNA samples from a Medical Research Council (MRC) micronutrient supplementation trial where women attempting to get pregnant are given either a cocktail of micronutrients or a placebo until pregnancy is confirmed (approximately an 8 weeks period). The research was conducted in The Gambia where there is seasonal variation in the availability of micronutrients with an alternation between the dry season (when they harvest and food is plentiful) and the wet season (when there is less food available and therefore poorer nutrition). Individuals born in the wet, nutritionally poor season have been found to be more susceptible to infection.
Professor Affara added: "This has huge public health implications for regions of the world where food security is an issue. If we have an improved understanding of what nutrition is important and the mechanisms by which this important environmental factor interacts with gene function, we can target nutritional intervention to improve health in later life."
University of Cambridge: http://www.cam.ac.uk
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
When you’re the size of a human, you worry about lions and tigers and bears. But if you’re …
An amateur fossil hunter has unearthed a 7ft skeleton of a carnivorous marine reptile on a beach in south Wales.
European regulators have recommended approval of the first medicine containing stem cells to treat a rare condition caused by burns to the eye.
Ecologists say birds could hear the oncoming storm from over 100 miles away
Marine scientists plumbing the deepest part of the ocean sent microphones and collection probes baited with chicken to the bottom of a trench near Guam. Now they watch, wait ... and listen.
Lead author of two retracted papers resigns her position after failing to reproduce new approach to generating stem cells
The winners of the 2014 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition capture a rat brain, the mouthparts of a vampire moth and other small wonders
By analysing brain activity linked to hand and arm movements, a team has created a robotic arm that a paralysed woman can control with her thoughts
Adding laser tips to ordinary shoes can improve the stride and pace of people with Parkinson's disease
Technique could someday help repair injuries