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    Unborn babies inherit more than genes from their father?

    Two new studies published online in Science reveal that sperm from the rodents carry pieces of RNAs that alter the metabolism of their offspring. This finding is an example of an unconventional phenomenon called epigenetic inheritance, in which something other than a DNA sequence passes a trait between generations.
    Both works highlight a different class of RNAs, transfer RNAs (tRNAs). In one study, genomicist Oliver Rando of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and colleagues delved into a case of epigenetic inheritance in which the progeny of mice fed a low-protein diet show elevated activity of genes involved in cholesterol and lipid metabolism. When Rando’s group analyzed sperm from the protein-deprived males, they uncovered an increased abundance of fragments from several kinds of tRNAs. The researchers concluded the sperm acquired most of these fragments while passing through the epididymis, a duct from the testicle where the cells mature.
    In the second study, a team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and other institutions repeated the experiments, except they tested the sperm of male mice that ate a low-protein diet compared to a normal diet. They found no differences between the two groups of offspring until they isolated the RNA in the sperm and found a certain group of genes responsible for the mouse’s stem cells were affected.
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