Transgenerational Metabolic Effects of Maternal Food Intake in Fruit Flies

sharma-obesity-drosophila1Regular readers will be well aware of the accumulating epidemiological, clinical and experimental data showing that maternal dietary habits before and during pregnancy can “permanently” modify their offspring’s metabolism and risk for condition like obesity through epigenetic “reprogramming”.

The major implication of these findings are that much of the childhood obesity epidemic can perhaps be explained by the increasing adiposity and older age of present day mothers – a trend that has been well underway for decades.

This ability to genetically reprogram metabolism within the space of a single generation appears to be firmly engrained in our biology and dates back to the earliest developmental characteristics of even the most genetically distant species.

Thus, a paper by Luciano Matzkin and colleagues, published in PLOS One, shows that peradult parental diet can affect offspring development and metabolism even in the fruit fly (drosophila melanogaster).

In their study, the researchers not only found that adult fruit flies emerging from larvae reared on isocaloric diets differing in their amounts of protein relative to sugar show differences in development times and metabolism, but that these alterations are passed on to their offspring, even when these are eating a normal diet.

Interestingly, there appeared to be additional genetic effects on how much of these epigenetic changes were transferred to the offspring, suggesting another level of complexity in this relationship.

Be that as it may, the evidence is clear that trans-generational metabolic reprogramming can occur within a single generation thus challenging the common view that genes cannot possibly play a role in the current obesity epidemic.

Anyone arguing that it would take 100s or 1000s of years for our genes to have changed enough to explain the onset of the obesity epidemic over the past few decades, is simply underestimating both the speed and impact of genetic changes that can occur within a single generation.

On a positive side, there is now at least some data suggesting that such changes may be avoided through interventions that promote healthier diets, exercise and limit excess weight gain during pregnancy. This may yet be our best bet in reducing the incidence of childhood obesity.

Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgMatzkin LM, Johnson S, Paight C, & Markow TA (2013). Preadult parental diet affects offspring development and metabolism in Drosophila melanogaster. PloS one, 8 (3) PMID: 23555695