Advancing Epigenetics Towards Systems Biology

Dining for your descendants


More and more research is taking place into the effects that your diet can have on your descendants

An expectant mother might well logically reason that what she eats will affect her unborn child. But the evidence is mounting that not only her children, but her grandchildren and subsequent generations will be affected by her nutrition. What she eats may not only affect her descendants as they develop, but potentially throughout their adult lives.

Brona McVittie reports :: November 2008

The early environment of a developing child can talk to its genome by epigenetic means. Environmental cues trigger changes to epigenetic tags on our genome, which shape the way genes are expressed. These tags on the genome can be carried through from cell to cell as we replace damaged body tissue. When such changes occur inside egg or sperm cells, they can pass through to the next generation. So, we don’t just inherit our genes, but potentially also their modes of expression.

A recent study published in Diabetes by Josep Jimenez–Chillaron and colleagues on 19th November adds further strength to this argument.  Based on recent research, which indicates that low birth weight is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease during adult life, the team wanted to know whether such disease risks might be passed on to future generations.

They bred mice with low birth weight by starving pregnant mothers during the last week of pregnancy.  Animals with low birth weight were mated and compared to the offspring from normal crosses. The experimental results indicated that starving pregnant mothers “programs” a low birth weight not only in her infants, but those of the next generation.

Coupled with this, males from the first-generation crosses were found to be glucose intolerant, which increased with age. All of the subsequent generation developed glucose intolerance by four months. Other studies have confirmed that diabetes can pass through more than a single generation through the maternal line, but this is the first study that shows inheritance of glucose intolerance through the male line.

Exactly how such changes manifest at the molecular level remains to be fully elucidated, although the team pinpointed a gene called Sur1, which could be linked to the glucose intolerance. While the researchers haven’t yet established the epigenetic basis of this inheritance, further studies will investigate changes to epigenetic tags that might be responsible. Such research has important medical implications, but will also cast light on the role of epigenetics in evolution.

Mon, May 29th 2017- Wed, May 31st 2017

After last year's successful kick-off meeting, the EpiGeneSwiss meeting will take place again in Weggis, Switzerland. This year we have added one day in addition to accommodate more topics and more t...

Mon, Jun 19th 2017- Wed, Jun 21st 2017

The focus of the 2017 IMB Conference is on “Gene Regulation by the Numbers: Quantitative Approaches to Study Transcription”. The conference will explore the latest findings and technological developme...

Tue, Jul 11th 2017- Thu, Jul 13th 2017

The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol invites all professionals interested in aetiological epidemiology and Mendelian randomization to attend our conference on the subject...

Wed, Aug 30th 2017- Fri, Sep 1st 2017

The nucleosome is the fundamental building block of chromatin organisation and genome function. The 20th anniversary of the high resolution nucleosome structure marks a milestone for bringing together...


EpiGeneSys Final
Meeting in Paris

Thur. 11 February 2016 - Sat. 13 February 2016

More than 280 scientists attended the fifth Annual Meeting of EpiGeneSys. The conference kicked off with a talk by coordinator Geneviève Almouzni, Director of the Research Center at the Institut Curie, highlighting the achievements of the network over more than five years...

Maison des océans - Paris Read more


The Non-Coding Genome ...

December 3-4 th, 2015

The last training workshop of the EpiGeneSys network

Hotel Mediterraneo - Rome, Italy Read more

Paris / TriRhena Chromatin Club

July 9th, 2015

...exciting talks and network with members of the Chromatin community!

... An EpiGeneSys TAB workshop

June 11st-12nd , 2015

... learn about current approaches to single cell epigenetics and to meet up and network with...

Montpellier, FranceRead more

Latest publications


The impact of rare and low-frequency genetic variants in common disease.

Read more

Stable Polycomb-dependent transgenerational inheritance of chromatin states in Drosophila.

Read more

Stable Polycomb-dependent transgenerational inheritance of chromatin states in Drosophila.

Read more