Can epigenetic mechanisms illuminate dietary ancestry in populations?

Author(s): M. J. Mosher

Year: 2015


Illuminating genetic and environmental factors underlying complex traits is a daunting task. Dietary nutrients provide continuous and evolving influence on gene expression, thus affecting individual growth and development and adaptive capacities over the life course. Metabolic traits represent the culmination of many gene-by-nutrient interactions. Genes set parameters for susceptibility to environmental factors, variation in both internal and external environmental dynamics mediating the ultimate response. Research identifies epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation, as registering environmental signals and mediating gene expression without altering gene sequencing. These mechanisms provide a more rapid, flexible and even reversible response to the environment than natural selection pressures on DNA. Nutrients play a pivotal role in the ongoing modification of these mechanisms. We may extrapolate abundant research from animal studies, however, studies examining normal human variation are lacking. Here we discuss the role of nutrients in DNA methylation and confounding environmental factors also affecting its variation. We present the modern migration model used in our previously reported pilot studies of four populations, examining methylation variation in the leptin core promoter, a gene regulating energy homeostasis, adipogenesis and reproduction. Maternal/offspring duos from three continents were compared: two African populations, one North American, one SE Asian.

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Cite this Record

Can epigenetic mechanisms illuminate dietary ancestry in populations?. M. J. Mosher. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 394855)