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It's Dad's fault: mice 'use' genetic mutations inherited from fathers more

9 March 2015
Appeared in BioNews 793

The idea that all of us - men and women - are chips off the paternal block has been given some scientific credence by a study in mice.

Like all mammals, the lab mice inherited two copies of almost all of their genes - one copy from each parent. But analysis revealed that when the mice carried two different variants of the same gene, the variant inherited from the father was the one more likely to be 'used', or expressed as a protein.

Dr James Crowley, of the University of North Carolina, USA, the first author of the study, said the research had unearthed 'a new, genome-wide expression imbalance in favour of the dad in several hundred genes'.

In particular, Dr Crowley added, 'this imbalance resulted in offspring whose brain gene expression was significantly more like their father's'.

For the study, published in Nature Genetics, researchers first selected three genetically distinct mouse strains. Male rats and female rats from each strain mated with each other to create nine hybrid species.

When the offspring mice reached adulthood, the researchers measured gene expression in four different kinds of tissue. They found that around 80 percent of mice's genes possessed variants that altered gene expression. For each of those genes, they worked out whether the paternally or maternally inherited variants were more likely to be expressed.

The researchers say that the effect they observed was occurring in addition to the already known phenomenon of imprinting, where one copy of a gene is effectively silenced.

The discovery may have implications for research into medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and many neurodegenerative disorders, which have a genetic component but where the genetics is more complex than just pinpointing just one or two faulty genes.

'We now know that mammals express more genetic variance from the father,' said Professor Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, who led the study. 'So imagine that a certain kind of mutation is bad. If inherited from the mother, the gene wouldn’t be expressed as much as it would be if it were inherited from the father. So, the same bad mutation would have different consequences in disease if it were inherited from the mother or from the father.'

Speaking to USA Today, Professor Nicholas Katsanis of Duke University, who was not involved in the study, said the research 'serves as a very good reminder that just when we thought we understood the genome we don't'.

The inference that we are all little more like our fathers than our mothers has also sparked public imagination. One comment on MailOnline observes that the idea that nature prioritises the father's genetic variations 'makes sense' as 'sexual reproduction provides variety and males suffer more "churn" (death-based selection) in the population than females (i.e. they are more likely to carry adaptive advantage in traits)'.

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11 May 2015 - by Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash 
International scientists from the Genotype-Tissue Expression project have created a new database to study how genomic variants affect gene activity in different body tissues...
3 March 2014 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Children born to fathers who are 45 years old or older are more likely to develop serious mental illness than children born to fathers in their early twenties, a large-scale study comparing siblings suggests...
10 December 2012 - by Purvi Shah 
An average person carries roughly 400 potentially damaging mutations in their DNA, say geneticists...
26 March 2012 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
A gene variant passed down from the mother has been linked to heavier newborns, according to scientists...
18 December 2009 - by Dr Jay Stone 
Non-profit Icelandic company deCODE genetics has published an article in Nature reporting that our chance of developing genetic disease can be different depending on whether we inherited the genes from our mother or father....
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