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 Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversaryi
X
May 05, 2015 2:11 AM
Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs