Most of us have heard the adage: “You are what you eat.” Now in a new study, the true extent of this sentiment has been revealed. Over the years we have found that we are more than just a product of our genes, and we know that the environment also plays a massive role in shaping who we are.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have established that practically all of our genes may be influenced by the food we eat.
According to a University of Cambridge news release:
“The study, carried out in yeast — which can be used to model some of the body’s fundamental processes — shows that while the activity of our genes influences our metabolism, the opposite is also true, and the nutrients available to cells influence our genes.”
While the study focused on yeast cells, the findings are likely to have implications for humans. It has shown us how our metabolism and gene expression are intertwined in a way not seen before.
The international team of researchers, led by Dr. Markus Ralser at the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute, London, manipulated the levels of important metabolites — the products of metabolic reactions — in the yeast cells, and examined how this affected the behavior of the genes and the molecules they produced, the University wrote.
“Almost nine out of ten genes and their products were affected by changes in cellular metabolism.”
Dr. Ralser said in a statement:
“Cellular metabolism plays a far more dynamic role in the cells than we previously thought. 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 classical view is that genes control how nutrients are broken down into important molecules, but we’ve shown that the opposite is true, too: how the nutrients break down affects how our genes behave.”
According to the researchers, the findings, which were published in the journal, Nature Microbiology, may have wide-ranging implications, like how we respond to certain drugs.
In cancers, for example, tumor cells develop multiple genetic mutations, which change the metabolic network within the cells. This, in turn, could affect the behavior of the genes, and may explain why some drugs fail to work for some individuals, the University writes.
Dr. Ralser explains:
“Another important aspect of our findings is a practical one for scientists. 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.”