A new study on pigs (used as models for humans) suggests that what you eat could affect your grandchildren much later on. Pigs who ate a special “methyl” diet had “grandpigs” with different DNA methylation and gene expression patterns than the DNA methylation patterns in the control group. Sure, the findings could help researchers build better bacon—but they also could have implications for human health.
Martin Braunschweig, and his colleagues at the University of Bern in Switzerland, knew of an epidemiological study that found a nutritional link between grandfathers and their grandsons’ risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Instead of forcing people to eat a diet high in methyl donors for decades, they decided to do the next best thing—feed F0 pigs (grandfather pigs) the special diet and then check on the F2 generation (grandson pigs). These pigs were in the experimental group.
Even though the experimental F2 pigs and their parents (F1 pigs) didn’t eat the methyl diet themselves, these F2s were significantly different from controls whose ancestors ate normal food.
The experimental F2s had less backfat—used to make lard, sausages, and specialty bacon—and were leaner than the controls. Several genes in muscle, kidney, and liver were differentially expressed two-fold between the control and experimental F2 groups. They also had differences in their DNA methylation in the IYD gene promoter that could mess up transcription-factor binding.
The researchers caution that this is a pilot study on a small number of animals and warn that they looked at the DNA methylation of only a few genes. However, they say that this work suggests that what you eat could have effects on your descendants.
Hit the buffet of details at PLoS One, February 2012.