Tuesday 5 January 2016

Like father like son: Epigenetics in wild guinea pigs

Date: December 23, 2015
Source: Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)

Fathers are able to adjust to increasing temperatures within their own lifetime and do transmit this information to their offspring. This has now been shown for the first time in a wild animal. The findings were the result of a project within the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation and have been published in the scientific journal Molecular Ecology.

Male wild guinea pigs respond to increasing temperatures with biochemical modifications attached to their genome and pass this "epigenetic" information to the next generation, and most likely even the following one.

In order to study their response to changing environmental conditions, male wild guinea pigs were kept for two months at an ambient temperature raised by ten degrees. It was subsequently examined whether any biochemical changes had occurred in the genome (DNA) of their liver in result of that heat treatment sons sired by the males before and after the rise in temperature were also examined for such possible biochemical changes of the genome of their liver and also in the genomes of their testicles. The joint scientists team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), the Berlin Center for Genomics in Biodiversity Research (BeGenDiv) and the Californian company Zymo Research detected significant differences in the methylation of the DNA (a biochemical modification of the genome) of the wild guinea pigs when comparing the genomes prior to and after exposure to increased temperatures. These differences were especially found in genes encoding proteins responsible for protection against heat damage. The magic word which describes this process is "epigenetics" (Greek: epi = upon, over, above; genetics = study of heredity) -- a molecular mechanism which regulates the switching-on of genes in response to environmental changes without changing the sequence of the DNA's building blocks.

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