An understanding of how a mother’s nutrition around the time of conception leads to changes in her developing embryo’s epigenome

27 July 2018

In a series of studies carried out across The Gambia, we have seen that epigenetic marks at key regions of the genome appear to be influenced by seasonal changes in a mother’s diet around conception.

These changes are only seen postnatally without direct evidence that they could occur in the very first few days of life.

Stages of Development-Early Embryo

In a unique analysis, a Bioinformatician in the Nutrition Theme, Noah Kessler, was able to track these changes by analysing public data collected from Chinese embryos obtained after in vitro fertilisation. The epigenome of the developing embryo undergoes dramatic changes in the very first few days of life as the cells formed when sperm and egg are fused begin dividing.

This work gives a vital insight into how and when a mother’s diet might impact her offspring’s epigenome.These epigenetic changes have the potential to affect how the offspring’s genes are regulated later in life which could in turn affect health and disease susceptibility throughout the life course.

Further work conducted by the team and others is suggesting that epigenetic changes could also be influenced by signals passed through the paternal line. This work was done in the second half of 2017 by Noah Kessler, Dr. Matt Silver, Profesor Andrew Prentice and our collaborator from the US, Rob Waterland.

Next steps are to link these epigenetic changes to changes in specific nutrients that are circulating in a pregnant mother’s blood and see if these can be altered by giving a nutritional supplement. We are also continuing to explore possible effects of these epigenetic changes on later health and the potential role of paternal health and nutrition in programming the embryonic epigenome.