Posted on November 7, 2008 by Tia Lalani

Faculty Colloquia with Neil Haave

C014, Classroom Building

Neil Haave, PhD

In our current Genetic Age it is common to hear or read in the media the discovery of some new gene that is the root cause of disease or ability. With current genetic recombination techniques it makes it seem that we should be able to engineer the perfect steak, the perfect fruit, the perfect individual. This thinking arises from the assumption that DNA, the chemical constituent of genes, is the master controller of biology. However, DNA is a dead molecule. Isolated in a test tube it cannot do anything. Its power stems from its cellular
context.

We know that our diet can influence how we live. Too much sugar gives us a sugar high followed by a crash. This influence of food is not limited to postnatal life but has been documented to begin before birth. Maternal diet can impact the offspring. What is very interesting is that this influence of maternal diet has been documented to continue after the maternal influence has ceased. It seems that maternal diet can metabolically imprint the offspring.

How does this happen? Ironically, recent advances in genetics suggest that the influence of genes is not unidirectional. Genes do profoundly impact cells, tissues, organs and organisms, but that the cellular environment can influence which genes are turned off or on. And that this influence is not necessarily transient. The structure of the DNA is altered which affects the expression of its genes. It is possible that maternal diet impacts the structure and expression of their offspring’s genes well after maternal diet has ceased being the direct source of nutrition for her offspring.

We are what we eat. We are also what our mothers ate.


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