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Pregnancy News: What Mothers Eat During Pregnancy Have Long-Lasting Effects On Their Babies

Update Date: Feb 08, 2017 10:46 AM EST

It is common knowledge that women crave to eat the weirdest combinations of food during pregnancy. However, a recent study warns mothers that what they eat during their pregnancy could have long-lasting effects on their babies.

Previous studies have proven that the maternal diet during pregnancy has long-lasting effects on the fetus. Researchers from Imperial College London developed a new way to visualize the effects of maternal diet during pregnancy on the fetus and the possible ways that can counter-act the said effects.

The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, developed an imaging technique that enabled the researchers to see when a gene is switched on or off in a mouse embryo throughout the pregnancy of the mother mouse. This novel imaging technique helped the researchers see exactly where the changes are happening and when it occurs during pregnancy due to the effect of the mother's diet.

Epigenetics is the relatively new field of science that aims to understand how genes are switched on and off. The study is the first one to develop an imaging technique that enabled the visualization of the effects of epigenetics.

The imaging technique developed for the study is simple yet powerful and uses a bioluminescent imaging approach. By attaching the mouse gene with enzymes from either firefly (luciferase) or bacteria (beta-galactosidase), the researchers were able to see when the gene is switched on or off. When a gene is switched on or activated, it glows due to the enzymes attached to it.

Furthermore, the study focuses on how imprinted genes, in particular, a Cdkn1c gene, is switched on and off during pregnancy. Imprinted genes are copy genes that are inherited from the parents of the offspring. However, only one part of the gene, either mother or father, can be activated. In the case of the Cdkn1c gene, only the mother part of the gene is active.

The researchers, using the imaging technique, want to see when the father part of the imprinted gene, which is usually switched off, switches on or activated. The study forces the activation of the imprinted gene from the father by controlling it with the use of either drugs or diet and seeing it glow when it is activated.

The study found that pregnant mice fed a low-protein diet had baby mice in which the imprinted genes from the father is switched on and stayed that way. According to the researchers, the result of the study clearly demonstrates a clear link between the harmful effects during the early life of the offspring and his or her later life outcomes.

The researchers highlight that once a gene is activated, it will stay and be set that way permanently. This means that any changes during the early life could affect the outcome of the health of the offspring and that diet during pregnancy plays an important role in whether a gene switches on or off. The good news though is that with a proper and nutritious diet, the adverse effects of genes switching on and off can be avoided during pregnancy.

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