Skip to main content
News_

Parental diet affects offspring immunity: meta-analysis

27 November 2017

A multidisciplinary wide-ranging study has found a close relationship exists between parents' diets and the immunity of offspring, with implications for wildlife conservation and agriculture as well as human health.

The impacts of a parent’s diet can extend beyond birth to affect the health of the child.

Photo credit: Inferis [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

A review of studies about parents’ diet and the immunity of animal offspring has found a close relationship exists, with implications for wildlife conservation and livestock rearing as well as human health.

The meta-analysis – which shows the intergenerational immunological response continues even when the offspring are raised on a normal diet – looked at hundreds of results published in 38 published papers across a range of animal species, including rodents, primates and birds.

The findings are published today in the high-impact journal Biological Reviews.

The paper is a cross-disciplinary effort spearheaded at the University of Sydney, by lead author Dr Catherine Grueber who undertook the research at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science  and including co-author Professor Stephen Simpson from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, who directs the lifestyle diseases-focused Charles Perkins Centre.

Dr Grueber said the study showed the close relationship between diet and immunity exists across the animal kingdom and that poor nutrition can negatively affect many traits, including disease resistance.

“Our meta-analysis suggests that the effects of a parental diet on immunity can be inherited and that this ‘signal’ is maintained in offspring in the short term, even if offspring are on the normal diet for their species,” Dr Grueber said.

“Researchers are now following a range of leads to discover exactly what that ‘signal’ is, what the long-term consequences are and whether the effects can be reversed if offspring continue to eat a healthy diet as they grow.”

Professor Simpson said the results could be relevant to humans and add to the body of evidence in support of healthy diets while pregnant.

“We already know that parents need to be mindful of maintaining a healthy diet not only during pregnancy but also before they conceive,” Professor Simpson said.

“This study demonstrates that the impacts of a parent’s diet can extend beyond birth to affect the health of the child.”

The authors of the paper are: Catherine Grueber, University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and San Diego Zoo Global; Lindsey Gray and Stephen Simpson, University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and School of Life and Environmental Sciences; Alistair Senior, University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and School of Mathematics and Statistics; and Katrina Morris, The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh.

Vivienne Reiner

Research Communication Specialist
Address
  • Westmead Hospital, Block K C24K

Related articles

30 June 2022

'Long COVID' presents a major health challenge - how can Australia be prepared?

Triple vaccination seems to reduce the chance of long COVID - but we still need to prepare for a jump in cases, write researchers at the University of Sydney.

28 June 2022

Colonising sea urchins can withstand hot, acidic seas

Marine biologists have found that black sea urchins in the Mediterranean Sea are remarkably tolerant of warm, acidic water. As a colonising species, the urchins' adaptability could lead to an ecological disaster in our climate change-impacted seas.
21 June 2022

Fifth of global food-related emissions due to transport

Food transport constitutes 19 percent of food emissions, equivalent to 6 percent of emissions from all sources, new University of Sydney research finds.
20 June 2022

The Sydney student helping others reach university

A scholarship to the University of Sydney changed Kawana Crowe's life. Now the 20-year-old Wiradjuri woman from Macksville wants to help other rural, regional and Indigenous students find a pathway to university.
20 June 2022

Endangered Tasmanian devils insured against future threats

The largest ever analysis of Tasmanian devil genetics has found protected populations are as robust as wild ones, raising hopes for the endangered species' survival.