Exeter scientists have found that a simple blood test, which can read DNA, could be used to predict obesity levels in children.
Researchers at the Universities of Exeter, Plymouth and Southampton used the test to assess the levels of epigenetic switches in the PGC1a gene – a gene that regulates fat storage in the body.
Epigenetic switches take place through a chemical change called DNA methylation which controls how genes work and is set during early life.
The researchers, who involved Professor Terence Wilkin at the University of Exeter Medical School, used DNA samples from 40 children who took part in the Early Bird project, which studied 300 children in Plymouth from the age of five until they were 14 years old.
Led by Professor Wilkin, the study assessed the childreneach year for factors related to type 2 diabetes, such as the amount of exercise they undertook and the amount of fat in their body. A blood sample was collected and stored. The Southampton team extracted DNA from these blood samples to test for epigenetic switches.
Professor Wilkin says: “The Early Bird study has already provided important information about the causes of obesity in children. Now samples stored during the study have provided clues about the role of fundamental processes that affect how genes work, over which a child has no control. This has shown that these mechanisms can affect their health during childhood and as adults.”