Environment changes the genetic makeup in the womb

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Even in the womb, the environment shapes the child's genome
Although DNA determines the basics of human development, the genetic makeup changes in the course of the so-called epigenetic effect due to environmental influences. These changes appear to start in the womb, according to a study by Australian researchers from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne.

As part of their study, scientists led by Jeffrey Craig and Richard Saffery examined the genetic makeup of "22 identical twin pairs and 12 non-identical twin pairs" immediately after birth and "mapped their epigenetic markers," according to the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. They surprisingly found that the identical twins also had significant differences in the expression of their DNA - the so-called epigenetic profile - at birth. Apparently, the different environmental influences in the womb affect the methylation of the DNA, whereby certain genes are either switched on or off.

Epigenetics - Inheritance Theory of Environmental Influences After the importance of DNA was assessed as almost deterministic for the development of a child, it has now come to the realization that environmental influences have a greater share in the development than previously assumed through the effect of epigenetics. The epigenetic effect determines which genes are activated or deactivated. This effect is caused at the biochemical level by the so-called methylation of the DNA. Methyl groups are formed on certain genes, which means that cell properties can be passed on to daughter cells that are not explicitly defined by the DNA. Since this has added an additional level to the theory of inheritance, scientists speak of epigenetics

As part of their study, the Australian researchers examined the point at which epigenetic changes begin in humans by analyzing the methylation of twins' DNA immediately after birth. For the first time, their study shows "on a genome-wide scale that identical twins who share the same DNA sequence can have different epigenetics at birth," the researchers report in the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute communication.

Environmental conditions change hereditary dispositions It has long been known that the environment can also have an impact on a person's hereditary disposition through the effect of epigenetics. The idea of ​​a fixed, unchangeable DNA has long been outdated. Rather, numerous studies indicate that a person's lifestyle (e.g. through eating, drinking or exposure to environmental toxins) has a significant impact on the methylation of DNA. In this way, the genes change over the course of life, although it has so far remained unclear whether the effect may already start in the womb. The Australian researchers have now got to the bottom of this question, with surprisingly clear results. At the epigenetic level, clear differences were found in the samples of the placenta, the umbilical cord and the umbilical cord blood, even in identical twins. These are due to events that happened to one twin in the womb and not to the other, according to Craig and Saffery. "The study shows that the unique environment in the uterus plays a critical role in building the epigenetic profile," emphasized Jeffrey Craig in the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute press release.

Different environmental influences on twins in the womb In fact, the environmental influences on the twins in the womb are by no means identical, because the embryos often have their own umbilical cord and in more than 95 percent of the cases also their own amniotic sac, explained Jeffrey Craig. The environmental conditions are therefore quite individual. The variable environmental influences mean that the epigenetic profile of the identical twins can develop extremely differently even in the womb. This finding has "potentially far-reaching effects on human health, since many diseases, such as diabetes, may develop very early in life," the Australian researchers concluded.

Disease prediction with the help of epigenetics According to Craig and Saffery, epigenetics has a decisive influence on the development of various diseases, whereby it is important to "identify and pursue this potential." In this way, the risk of disease can be recognized early in life. Possibly, the individual epigenetic health risks could also be avoided through a "specific environment or dietary intervention", the Australian scientists hope. Your statements are also corroborated by the observed epigenetic differences in twins with different birth weights. Because the lighter twins "showed changes, especially in genes that predispose to diseases that were previously associated with low birth weight", the scientists report in the press release from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. (fp)

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