If a father works out every night and day at the gym, will he have a brawny baby? Well, yes and no. It might sound Lamarckian but the French naturalist might have had a point. A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge has described for the first time in humans how some regions of the epigenome are, in fact, delivered to the offspring.
Although our genetic information is written in the four letters of the DNA, our genes are annotated, the same way this text is punctuated. The genetic commas and points embody the epigenome, which regulate and even switch on and off our genes.
These annotations have several forms. Broadest studies focus on methylation, where small methyl molecules attach to the DNA, contributing to the regulation of gene activity. Methylation occurs spontaneously through our interaction with the environment, for example in periods of deprivation of nutrients. Almost all of this epigenetic information is, however, removed in early germ cells prior to the generation of egg and sperm.