Lifestyle affects baby in womb more than genes

London, May 6: Your nutrition, mental health and lifestyle could affect the baby in your womb even more than the genes, a study showed.

Genetic differences alone best explained 25 percent of the epigenetic variation between babies, with the remaining 75 percent best explained by the interaction of genetic differences and the prenatal environment, the study showed.

Epigenetics, and in particular DNA methylation marks, are thought to link a baby’s development in the womb with its risk of obesity and heart disease in later life, said Keith Godfrey, a professor at the National University of Singapore.

“This research provides important new evidence that fixed changes in a baby’s genes have only a modest influence on its epigenetic profile at birth,” Godfrey noted.

Development in the womb can in some ways be likened to an orchestra, in which genes are the instruments and epigenetic changes are the musicians who determine the sound that is heard, or the baby that is formed.

“Most of the variation between babies arises from interactions between the environment experienced in the womb and the genetic information inherited from the parents,” he added.

Epigenetics refers to the complex set of reactions that control the development and maintenance of plants and animals by switching parts of the DNA on and off at strategic times and locations.

The researchers used an analysis of epigenetic marks on DNA for the study. They used samples of umbilical cord tissue DNA from 237 individuals (131 Chinese, 72 Malay, 34 Indian).

The baby’s epigenetic profile was determined using infinium array technology and a million potential inherited genetic polymorphisms were measured.

Genetic polymorphism promotes diversity within a population.

“This has fundamental implications for how epigenetic studies will be conducted in the future and for our understanding of how the mother’s nutrition and lifestyle have long-lasting effects on the health of her children,” Godfrey maintained.

The study appeared in the journal Genome Research.