Women trying to conceive are advised to take the B vitamin, folate. That’s because it’s necessary for numerous biological functions, including cell growth and division, making it crucial for foetal development. Maternal dietary folate deficiency can cause severe health problems for developing embryos, most notably neural tube defects. Even with sufficient nutrition, variations in genes involved in folate metabolism can have the same effect. Using a mouse model, researchers showed that a gene called Mtrr is essential for cells to make use of folate. If this gene’s activity is reduced it causes developmental delay and congenital malformations in offspring (embryo pictured on the right). In fact the team found that it was the maternal grandparents’ Mtrr gene type that affected the embryo’s folate metabolism and development. Inheriting traits in this way is down to epigenetics – tweaks to how a gene’s used rather than changes in the code itself.
Written by Katie Panteli
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