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Study Links Mother\'s Diet to Child\'s Vulnerability for Disease

By Ed Yeates Reporting, ksl.com

29 July 2007: What a pregnant mother eats may make her child more vulnerable for diseases later on in life. That\'s what Duke University researchers have shown in a new study released late this afternoon.

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This new study provides additional evidence that ingredients a pregnant woman sometimes consumes may make her offspring more susceptible to disease.

The process involves a gene that may do a certain thing, not because it\'s abnormal, but because it was influenced by something in the environment.

The science is called epigenetics, which means \"above the gene.\" The gene is not mutated or defective necessarily. It simply gets an imprint, which might be subtle.

Dr. Lynn Jorde, of University of Utah human genetics, says, \"There are a lot of interactions that occur between our genes and our environment that we have to take into account when we\'re doing genetics studies. We can\'t think of genes as something you inherit, that stay the same throughout your life. They can be modified.\"

While the University of Utah was not involved in the Duke study, it knows a lot about this science called epigenetics.

Duke researchers exposed pregnant mice to BPA, a chemical commonly found in plastics that can be detected in almost all humans. It produced changes in mice born with a yellow coat. Earlier studies show these mice, as they get older, are at much greater risk for developing diabetes, obesity and cancer.

Dr. Jorde talks about yet another example of epigenetics. \"There is some evidence that babies that are born with low weight are more likely to develop type II diabetes.\"

Again, the process can switch a gene on or off excessively without altering the sequence of the gene itself.

In the Duke experiment, when pregnant mice were given folic acid the effect of that BPA chemical was counteracted. So researchers say the recommendation that expectant mothers take folic acid becomes even more important now.