News / Health

Q&A with Robert Waterland: Feast, Famine and DNA

Frances Alonzo
There is new research that suggests that a mother's nutritional health could affect her child's health in a way that can have lifelong implications. 
 
Dr. Robert Waterland is an Associate Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas.  He tells VOA's Frances Alonzo that data from a study of mothers in Gambia shows there are real differences in a child's genetic make-up and the child's resilience in certain diseases later in life. 
 
He says that his group studied mothers who conceived their babies during the rainy season, when food was plentiful, to those babies conceived in the dry season, when the diet was different.  He says the results show exciting promise in the eventual creation of a diet for mothers that would help their children before conception and during pregnancy that would give them a lifelong chance to live healthier, disease resistant lives.
 
Q&A with Robert Waterland: Feast, Famine and DNA
Q&A with Robert Waterland: Feast, Famine and DNAi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

WATERLAND:  What we studied was the effects of maternal nutrition in the Gambia in West Africa and how a mother’s diet before and during early pregnancy affects her nutritional status and actually affects the process we call “epigenetics” in her developing baby. What our data shows that is new and exciting is that mothers nutrition around the time of conception actually causes permanent marks on her child’s DNA and this appears to occur in essentially all the cells of the body.
 
ALONZO: Ok. Let me make sure I got it. We have the mothers on one hand who ate better because the weather was better.  There was more food available.  You compared that to mothers who conceived during a time where food was not quite that plentiful. That apparently had some kind of effect on the genetic makeup of the child with regards to how the infant responded to certain genetic factors later in life.  Am I understanding?
 
WATERLAND:  That’s correct.  What we now know is that these data related to season of conception are causing us to reconsider that whole relationship and to think, well, also mortality may be related to season of conception in addition to being related to season of birth. So, it’s causing us to reconsider exactly when these early environmental effects are having their impact.
 
ALONZO: In a certain respect, it does have a very futuristic, Star Wars-y, outer space kind of a sense where you can kind of pick and choose how you want your child to come out.
 
WATERLAND: I don’t know if we are going to quite get to that point.  That’s a very interesting way to put it.  What our studies are showing, these are data that are not yet published, but we’re finding that mom’s nutrition rate right around the time of conception, her nutritional status,  can affect the chances of dysregulation of epigenetics. What it suggests is that there will be a specific nutritional profile that will be optimal to minimize this epigenetic dysregulation. You cannot take the influence of genetics out of all this. Our studies are not saying that genetic mechanisms are not important determinacies of  health and disease.
This level, this epigenetic regulation I think it’s very optimistic to think that if we learn to and if we understand these processes better and can learn how to manipulate them by nutrition for example or even by pharmacological interventions, then this has great promise for improving human health.  Because unlike the genome, unlike your genes, which are difficult to change, it may be possible to steer them in the right direction during development and also even to correct them if we can identify epigenetic dysregulation that might contribute to disease. 
 
But, what I want to emphasize is that we believe our data have implications, have worldwide relevance really.  And another way we can underscore that is that even these particular regions of the genome that we’ve identified, we first identified these in Caucasians in the U.S. and then they were validated in Vietnamese individuals and only then did we study these processes in these West Africans. So this really indicates that all over the world that similar types of effects of maternal nutrition on the child’s epigenetic regulation are likely to be happening.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More