As they say, you are what you eat. And if you’re a mouse, you’re also what your father ate.
So say researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Texas at Austin. In a study published this week in the journal Cell, they report that a father’s diet influences how metabolic genes function in his offspring.
The research team fed some male mice a normal diet, while other mice got a low-protein diet. All the males mated with females who ate the same healthy diet. Sure enough, the offspring of the protein-deprived fathers had hundreds of genetic changes that weren’t seen in the mouse pups whose fathers ate the normal amount of protein. The changes were observed even when the fathers never met their offspring.
Among the genes that were modified were some involved in making fat and cholesterol. Study leader Dr. Oliver Rando of U. Mass said those changes were probably meant to give the sons and daughters a boost. “It’s consistent with the idea that when parents go hungry, it’s best for offspring to hoard calories,” he said in a statement distributed by Cell.