In a number of studies, people who experience famine and malnutrition have been found to later have children with a greater likelihood of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and other nutrition-related health problems, persisting even into a subsequent generation. Events such as the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944 suggest that environmental factors can produce heritable changes in an individual. Environmental factors also play a role in shaping the immune system. What is not entirely understood is the mechanism that produces these changes or whether immunologic adaptations could follow the same path as the nutrition-related ones.
Prajwal Gurung, PhD, will examine both questions under a recently received one-year, $40,000 pilot grant from the University of Iowa’s Environmental Health Sciences Research Center. Dr. Gurung will use an endotoxin challenge in mice as an environmental stimulus. His lab will study the impact on their immune system and microbiota, and whether those effects will transfer to offspring. “Successful completion of our studies,” Dr. Gurung says, “would provide evidence for inheritance of acquired traits independent of changes in genetic code.” Gaining a greater understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of inheritance, specifically of immunologic traits, should lead to better disease protection and potential therapeutics.