A study published in the journal Nature Microbiology and titled “The metabolic background is a global player in Saccharomyces gene expression epistasis” has established the fact that the behavior of genes in our body is determined by the food we eat and how these are subsequently broken down, a process known as metabolism.
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In other words, metabolism is the breakdown of food substances or molecules to provide body energy and release compounds needed for the maintenance of body cells. Previous studies show that the behavior of genes can be regulated by the actions of other genes or DNA molecules that turn genes on and off, but the latest study adds that biochemical reactions triggered by the amount of nutrients available to a cell can also influence how a cell or gene behaves.
Nutrients that affect cell behavior are sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins broken down and derived from the foods we consume. To prove that metabolic network and genome combine to determine how genes behave in our body, the researchers resorted to carrying out an experiment on yeast cells.
Yeast is an ideal model organism for large scale experiments at it is much simpler to manipulate than animal models, yet many of its important genes and fundamental cellular mechanisms are the same as or very similar to those in animals and humans.
The research was carried out by an international team of researchers led by Dr. Markus Ralser of the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute in London.
“Cellular metabolism plays a far more dynamic role in the cells than we previously thought,” explains Dr. Ralser. “Nearly all of a cell’s genes are influenced by changes to the nutrients they have access to. In fact, in many cases the effects were so strong, that changing a cell’s metabolic profile could make some of its genes behave in a completely different manner.”
The basic understanding is that genes control how food nutrients are broken down into important molecules, but the research shows this is not true; and that our genes are controlled by how nutrients get broken down.
This study would be good for understanding why certain drugs fail to work in certain individuals; and why biology experiments are often not reproducible between laboratories.
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“It appears however, that small metabolic differences can change the outcomes of the experiments. We need to establish new laboratory procedures that control better for differences in metabolism. This will help us to design better and more reliable experiments,” Dr. Ralser said.