If your father didn't have much meat or other protein on the table while he was growing up, you may be more likely to produce and store fat, according to recent research.
While this could help you survive starvation, it also puts you at higher risk for some diseases.
The dietary conditions fathers experience may influence genetic expression in future generations, said scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Texas at Austin.
Earlier research on an isolated community in Sweden, known as the Överkalix Cohort Study, found that poor nutrition during a paternal grandfather's adolescence increased his grandchild's risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. But since that study was using a real-world human population, there were too many social and economic variables to make any firm conclusions.
To focus on the effects of paternal diet alone, the researchers controlled the diets of two groups of mice. The males in one were fed a normal diet. The second group of males received protein-poor food. The females of both groups ate a normal diet.
Lead researcher Oliver Rando and colleagues observed that offspring of male mice fed a low-protein diet showed a marked difference in the activity of genes responsible for fatty chemical formation. Lipid and cholesterol formation increased as compared to offspring of the control group fed the standard diet.
Inheriting an increased production of fats could serve to prepare offspring for tough times by increasing energy storage, but can also lead to health problems.
“It's consistent with the idea that when parents go hungry, it's best for offspring to hoard calories,” said Rando.
"Our study begins to rule out the possibility that social and economic factors, or differences in the DNA sequence, may be contributing to what we're seeing," said Rando. "It strongly implicates epigenetic inheritance as a contributing factor to changes in gene function."
The researchers findings were published recently in the journal Cell.