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Gestation conditions dictate lifelong worm metabolism

Worm metabolism is dictated by gestation conditions, according to a new study.

The study has shed new light on the theory that worm metabolism can be predetermined before birth. Published today in the PLOS Genetics journal, the study focused on the extensively studied nematode worms known as C. elegans.

The findings indicate worms who were underfed for the first week of their life were better equipped and experienced fewer long-term adverse effects if their mothers had been underfed during pregnancy.

A team led by Dr. L. Ryan Baugh, assistant professor at Duke College, fed one group of pregnant worms a normal diet. The second group was given significantly less nutritious fare. When the offspring were born, they were held without food for eight days and monitored throughout their creepy-crawly lives. The research showed the starved larvae grew slower and were less fertile than the worms who ate normally.

However, the worms whose mothers were given the weight-watchers’ diet while pregnant were significantly less affected than the worms whose mothers were well-fed. Those worms also made a much quicker recovery after the eight-day starvation period.

“They didn’t completely escape the adverse effects of early life starvation but they were buffered from them,” Baugh said. “These animals are able to anticipate adverse conditions based on their mothers’ experience.”

A study on humans in the early 90s yielded a similar conclusion, called the “thrifty phenotype hypothesis.” It found that pregnant women who don’t get enough nutrition are able to program their offspring with “thrifty” metabolisms which store nutrients efficiently. As a result, the children are better able to operate in food-scarce conditions.

It is still unclear how this reprogramming works. Malnutrition during pregnancy has been shown to cause mother worms to make bigger, stronger eggs, better fit to handle the conditions. One theory says that hunger slows down ovulation, so the egg has more time to grow prior to fertilization. The mother’s diet during pregnancy might also change the gene expression passed down to the offspring.

We respectfully remind all readers that a healthy, balanced diet is key to a happy, healthy pregnancy.

Read more over at Duke Today.

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