Avy mice are an excellent system for study because all mice of this strain are genetically identical--as similar to each other as identical twins. However, mouse pups from a single litter differ from each other in their coat color (from yellow to brown), obesity (thinner to fatter), and susceptibility to cancer, and all of these varied traits can be traced back to the Avy version of the agouti gene. The mouse model also suggests that similar things can happen in humans, since our gene characteristics are very similar.
Although this study does not provide any prescriptive advice, it does offer significant evidence that health outcomes may be strongly influenced at the time of birth. "Our study highlights a layer of complexity about human development that needs to be thoroughly investigated," said Kenneth Beckman, Ph.D. Assistant Scientist at CHORI and a member of the Project EXPORT Center of Excellence in Nutritional Genomics, a PROGRAM PROJECT funded by the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. "We found that even when we stopped providing specific supplements during pregnancy, the past effect of supplements persisted. Therefore, it is possible that the maternal diet could have implications that stretch over decades, perhaps even centuries."