You are what you eat: Nutrition has upper hand in deciding physical appearance

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Does what we eat have an impact on physical appearance and beyond? Ants and bees, for example, grow into workers or queens based upon the food eaten as larvae. (©
Does what we eat have an impact on physical appearance and beyond? Ants and bees, for example, grow into workers or queens based upon the food eaten as larvae. (©

Related tags: Protein, Dna, Gene

Nutrition, not genetic differences, appear to control the appearance of certain physical traits, a US study indicates.

The work points to nutritional influences on distinct genetic pathways that are causing researchers to revise current views on how new traits and their characteristics have evolved over time.

Research undertaken at Indiana University used horned beetles to isolate a number of mechanisms that either inhibit or promote specific traits during development under controlled nutritional conditions.

Hedgehog pathway

One of the main pathways identified is known as the hedgehog signalling pathway (Hh), a system best known for specifying front and back of developing structures, such as an insect's leg or wing.

Genes in this pathway form part of a 'relay system' that transmits information about nutrition to the cell nucleus, where decisions are made about gene expression.

In horned beetles, this pathway seemed to obstruct the growth of specific structures when the animal experienced low nutrition during early development.

Referring to previous research that identified a pathway that promoted growth under high nutritional conditions, professor in the Indiana University's department of biology, Dr Armin Moczek, said: "If you put these two pathways together the result is the first comprehensive developmental genetic explanation of a nutrition-dependent developmental threshold, a phenomenon that biologists have been trying to explain for a very long time."

"Now that we understand how these pathways provide communication with the outside world, we want to start listening in on the conversation."


Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Published online ahead of print,

“Hedgehog signaling enables nutrition-responsive inhibition of an alternative morph in a polyphenic beetle.”

Authors: Teiya Kijimoto ,Armin P. Moczek

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