The link between poor maternal nutrition and suboptimal infant and child outcomes is well established, but underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Modifications to the developing offspring epigenome are a plausible mechanism for the transmission of inter-generational signals that could extend to effects of paternal nutrition mediated by epigenetic modifications in sperm.
Matt Silver takes a closer look on studies on human nutritional epigenetics focusing on the potential for DNA changes to mediate ‘inter-generational’ signals, that is methylation changes that arise as a result of direct exposure of the embryo or fetus to maternal factors. In his discussion he explores the work of the group that he is part of, performed in a rural population in The Gambia in Sub-Saharan West Africa. This study exploits a natural experiment whereby fluctuations in energy balance and maternal nutrition exposures show a distinct bimodal pattern corresponding to dry and rainy seasons, demonstrating that season of conception and blood levels of certain nutritional biomarkers in maternal blood plasma predict DNA methylation in infants.