It has long been known that a parent’s DNA is the primary determinant of health and disease in offsprings.
However, DNA inheritance turns out that is only a part of the story – A father’s lifestyle like diet, being overweight, and stress was linked to health advantages and disadvantages for the offspring.
That happens via the epigenome, which consists of heritable biochemical marks associated with the DNA and proteins that form it.
However, the mechanism of transmitting the information at fertilization, along with the precise mechanisms and molecules in sperm that get involved in the process, was a mystery until recently.
A new study from McGill, published recently in Developmental Cell, made a significant advance in the field by finding how environmental information is transmitted via non-DNA molecules found in the sperm.
It is a discovery that enriches the scientific understanding of the heredity of paternal life experiences and possible opens new possibilities for studying disease prevention and transmission.
Sarah Kimmins, PhD, the senior author on the study and the Canada Research Chair in Epigenetics, Reproduction and Development, explained that the big breakthrough of the study is that it has identified a non-DNA based means of sperm remembering a father’s environment (in terms of diet) and transmit that information furthermore for the embryo to use.
“It is remarkable, as it presents a major shift from what is known about heritability and disease from being solely DNA-based to one that now includes sperm proteins. This study opens the door to the possibility that the key to understanding and preventing certain diseases could involve proteins in sperm,” she added.