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Parents Experiences Could Impact Children's Genes

Update Date: Dec 06, 2015 04:25 PM EST

A new study suggests that when parents transfer genetic material to their children, they are also passing along genetic changes that happened to the parent as a result of the parent's life experiences.

This theory is known as epigenetics, which has been growing in popularity among biologists and genetics in recent years, The New York Times reports.

The study from the University of Copenhagen, led by Dr. Romain Barres, looked at the genetic markers in the sperm of overweight and obese men before they underwent bariatric surgery. Barres and his team of researchers collected sperm from 10 obese Danish men and 13 thin Danish men and then evaluated the genetic markers of each.

The scientists chose to look at methylation, a particular genetic process in the formation of DNA. The scientists found more than 9,000 differences in the outcome of the methylation process in the samples from the thin and obese men.

The scientists then found six men who were getting bariatric surgery and had them provide samples of sperm before and after their weight loss procedure. Barres and his team found that a year after surgery, there were more than 3,900 differences in the methylation process of sperm for those subjects.

Some of the differences were on genes that impact appetite control and moving forward, the scientists hope that they can look at the blood cells of the obese fathers to see if they match or differ from those of their children.

The exploration of epigenetics and human development has become more popular in recent years following studies with animals that suggests an offspring's genetics can be influenced by the experiences of their parents.

For example, rats whose fathers were exposed to stress inducing scents like those of fox showed less reaction to stressful stimuli.

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