A study of umbilical cord tissue from 237 Asian individuals showed that the interaction between the genome and the prenatal environment can have a profound impact on epigenetic variation.
AsianScientist (Apr. 29, 2014) – A study has found that genetics, as well as the environment in the womb, play important roles in the development of the baby. The findings were published in the journal Genome Research. The effort by the international team of scientists and clinicians, led by A*STAR’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), is the world’s first attempt to discover how genetic and environmental factors affect the human epigenome. The results have fundamental implications for how epigenetic studies will be conducted in the future and for our understanding of how the mother’s nutrition and lifestyle may have long-lasting effects on the health of her children.
In this study, samples of umbilical cord tissue were taken from 237 individuals in the GUSTO Birth Cohort Study and their epigenetic profiles were examined. While genetic differences alone accounted for 25 percent of the epigenetic variation, up to 75 percent could be attributed to the interaction between genetic differences and prenatal environments.
This means that both prenatal and genetic factors closely related. Earlier research has shown that some of the prenatal factors such as maternal smoking, maternal depression, maternal weight, infant birth weight, gestational age, and birth order affect the development of fetuses. This study shows that the most variable epigenetic marks among new-borns are most likely to be driven by a combination of genetic differences and the environment in which the baby develops before birth.
Thus, future studies on human epigenetic variation could include an assessment of how much environmental influences are affected by genetic differences. “The GUSTO birth cohort is an extremely powerful dataset to investigate how our experiences at the very beginnings of our lifetimes, in combination with our genes, affect our health throughout our lives. We see those messages transmitted via our DNA.
We are asking fundamental questions about how the product of human evolution (our genes) interact with the individual circumstances we are born into, to shape our well-being,” remarked Dr. Joanna Holbrook at A*STAR’s SICS, senior principal investigator of the study.