Date: November 15, 2016
Source: University of Oxford
Researchers at the University of Oxford have demonstrated that the diets of organisms can affect the DNA sequences of their genes.
In a study on two groups of parasites, the team detected differences in DNA sequences that could be attributed to the composition of their food.
The results are published in the journal Genome Biology.
Study co-author Dr Steven Kelly, from Oxford's Department of Plant Sciences, said: 'Organisms construct their DNA using building blocks they get from food. Our hypothesis was that the composition of this food could alter an organism's DNA. For example, could a vegetarian panda have predictable genetic differences from a meat-eating polar bear?
'To test this hypothesis, we picked simple groups of parasites to use as a model system. These parasites share a common ancestor but have evolved to infect different hosts and eat very different foods.
'We found that different levels of nitrogen in a parasite's diet contributed to changes in its DNA. Specifically, parasites with low-nitrogen, high-sugar diets had DNA sequences that used less nitrogen than parasites with nitrogen-rich, high-protein diets.'
The study involved groups of eukaryotic parasites (Kinetoplastida) and bacterial parasites (Mollicutes) that infect different plant or animal hosts.