The food we eat might be affecting us at the genetic level. A new study focusing on yeast suggests that most of our genes could be influenced by what we consume. The paper is published in the journal Nature Microbiology.
Yeast as model
The researchers worked on yeast which is used as a model for certain body processes since a large part of its genes and cellular mechanisms are similar to animals while it is also easier to manipulate it than large animal models.
Using yeast cells, the authors of the study linked food, metabolism, and genes. Both genes and metabolism impact on the behaviour of cells.
Genes, metabolism, and food
Our genes determine so many aspects of our life including metabolism, and apparently, vice versa; that is, the nutrients made available to our cells used in metabolic reactions might be affecting our genes. Genes themselves are regulated by other genes and switched on and off by molecules attached onto the DNA. Previous research suggests that metabolic reactions might also be involved in gene regulation — this is where the food we consume comes into play. Metabolism has to do with the breaking down of food to generate energy, and the synthesis of compounds essential for cells. The latter requires nutrients made available from the former process.
The experiment: Manipulating metabolites
The products of the metabolic reactions (the metabolites) were manipulated in terms of their levels in the yeast cells by the researchers to determine the effect thereof on gene behaviour and the molecules they produce. It was found that nearly 9 out of 10 genes as well as their products were influenced by cellular metabolism changes; some instances even constituted very strong effects.
Lead author Dr Markus Ralser from the University of Cambridge concludes that cellular metabolism has a greater role in cells than previously thought. Changes in the nutrients that are made accessible to cells affect the latter’s genes.
Metabolism’s effects on genes: Further insight into cancer treatment
The findings might have important implications in our use of drugs for diseases like cancer which entails genetic mutations that modify cells’ metabolic network which could, in turn, impact on the behaviour of the genes. The discovery might explain why some drugs do not provide the desired effects in some patients.