Research Briefs

Eating for Two, or an Entire Lineage; Serine at the Start of Life; Interdisciplinary Research

Eating for Two, or an Entire Lineage

Courtesy of Randy Jirtle

Duke University researchers give a new twist to the old adage, "You are what you eat." By feeding female agouti (Avy) mice methyl-rich supplements such as folic acid and vitamin B12, Randy Jirtle and Robert Waterland reduced agouti gene expression in their offspring. This change, caused by direct methylation of a transposon at the 5' end of the agouti locus, resulted in dramatic, visible changes in pups, including darkened coat color and decreased weight gain.1 "Transposons are genomic parasites," says Jirtle, explaining that epigenetic mechanisms such as methylation have evolved to counteract transposon-initiated gene expression.

The research has broad implications. Such epigenetic effects could muddle sequence-driven disease gene hunts; the fact that environmental factors can cause potentially heritable...

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