Environmental influences, including diet, that a father experiences can be transmitted to his offspring, 'reprogramming' the latter's genes.
A study has thrown up new evidence that environmental cues influence genes in mammals from one generation to the next.
These insights, coupled with previous human studies, suggest that paternal environmental effects may play a more important role in complex diseases such as diabetes and heart disease than previously believed, the journal Cell reports.
'Knowing what your parents were doing before you were conceived is turning out to be important in determining what disease risk factors you may be carrying,' said chief study investigator Oliver J. Rando, according to a University of Massachusetts statement.
Rando is an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the US.
The human genome is often described as the set of instructions that govern the development and functioning of life.
'A major and underappreciated aspect of what is transmitted from parent to child is ancestral environment,' said Rando. 'Our findings suggest there are many ways that parents can 'tell' their children things.'
Rando and colleagues fed different diets to two groups of male mice. The first group received a standard diet, while the second received a low-protein diet.
The researchers observed that the offspring of the mice which was fed the low-protein diet exhibited a marked increase in the genes responsible for lipid and cholesterol synthesis in comparison to offspring of the control group fed the standard diet.