Nutrients in food can change how GENES ‘behave’

Genes were thought to govern how our bodies metabolise the food we eat
But a new study has found nutrients can also alter how our genes ‘behave’
In yeast, nearly nine out of ten genes are affected by the nutrients available
Study could explain why people respond differently to drugs, for example:

Most of us will be aware of the ‘high’ we can get from eating a bar of chocolate or the guilt that follows a sneaky fast food meal – and the harm it can do to us if we do it too often.

But the food we eat on a daily basis may be having a far greater impact on our bodies than previously realised, according to a new study.

Researchers have discovered that nutrients in food alter how proteins are produced in ‘almost every gene in our body’, and this can have a direct impact on our health.

Proteins are the cell’s ‘workers’ and our bodies use them a range of biological functions.

For example, some are used as the ‘building blocks’ for hair and nails, while muscles contain proteins called actin and myosin.

Other kinds of proteins carry oxygen around the body and help fight infections, while enzymes control the rate of the chemical reactions in the body that make other molecules.

If the production of protein is changed, it can have a knock-on effect on how our bodies grow, respond to illness and even our intelligence.

The finding suggests the relationship between nature and nurture is far more complicated than had been previously believed and could explain day-to-day variations in how our genes work.

Researchers found that while our DNA governs how metabolism works, the nutrients released from food by these processes can also, in turn, change the way our genes function

Dr Markus Ralser, a biochemist at the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute, London, who led the research, said: ‘Cellular metabolism plays a far more dynamic role in the cells than we previously thought.

‘Nearly all of a cell’s genes are influenced by changes to the nutrients they have access to.

‘In fact, in many cases the effects were so strong, that changing a cell’s metabolic profile could make some of its genes behave in a completely different manner.’

The study, which is published in the journal Nature Microbiology, was carried out in yeast.

Yeast is used as a common model for fundamental cellular processes.

Genes are segments of DNA that provide a ‘code’ that allows cells to produce proteins in every living organism. These proteins then provide structure or perform the chemical functions of the cell.

But in order to produce proteins and perform these functions, every living cell needs a supply of nutrients – basic materials – to help survive, including sugars, amino acids, fatty acids and vitamins.

The metabolism of each cell processes these nutrients to generate energy and the building blocks it requires.

But the new study has found that the availability of nutrients to cells also seems to affect the behaviour of genes and the protein molecules they produce.

The researchers found almost nine out of ten genes, and the proteins they produce, were affected by changes in cellular metabolism.

Dr Ralser and his colleagues believe their findings may have wide-ranging implications.

While they have still to unravel exactly how different foods influence different genes, it may help to explain why people respond in different ways to certain drugs, for instance.

The finding could help scientists develop new ways of tackling cancers, which alter their metabolic processes.

It could also underline the importance of diet as the researchers unravel the interactions between nutrients and our genes further.

‘The classical view is that genes control how nutrients are broken down into important molecules,’ explained Dr Ralser.

‘We’ve shown that the opposite is true, too – how the nutrients break down affects how our genes behave.

‘Another important aspect of our findings is a practical one for scientists. Biological experiments are often not reproducible between laboratories and we often blame sloppy researchers for that.

‘It appears however, that small metabolic differences can change the outcomes of the experiments.

‘We need to establish new laboratory procedures that control better for differences in metabolism. This will help us to design better and more reliable experiments.’

Nutrients in food can change how GENES ‘behave’

By Richard Gray 

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