Foods eaten influence the genes, according to a new study published online in the journal Nature Microbiology on Feb. 1. Experts believe that the genes affect food choice, but this study shows that the opposite is also true.
Using yeast, the researchers looked at the role of metabolism in the cell functionality. The yeast is easier to manipulate than animal models and its genes and cellular mechanisms are similar to those found in animals and humans, making it the perfect model organism.
The researchers observed how the levels of metabolites or the products of metabolic reactions impact the gene behaviour and the molecules they created. They found that cellular metabolism influenced nine out of ten genes and their molecule products.
“Cellular metabolism plays a far more dynamic role in the cells than we previously thought,” lead researcher Markus Ralser from the University of Cambridge says in a statement. “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 findings could have implications in other fields, such as providing further knowledge about how cancer patients react to their drugs. The tumour mutates the genes and causes various changes within the cells, making some cancer drugs useless for many individuals.
“Another important aspect of our findings is a practical one for scientists,” Ralser adds. “Biological experiments are often not reproducible between laboratories and we often blame sloppy researchers for that. 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.”