New research by scientists in the US has revealed that mammals may use more genetic material from their fathers than their mothers.
The study at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine shows that although mammals inherit equal amounts of genetic mutations from their parents – the mutations that make an individual who they are – they actually “use” more of the DNA inherited from the father.
The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, has wide implications for the study of human disease, especially when using mammalian research models. For instance, in many mouse models created for the study of gene expression related to disease, researchers typically don’t take into account whether specific genetic expression originates from mothers or fathers. But the UNC research shows that inheriting a mutation has different consequences in mammals, depending on whether the genetic variant is inherited from the mother or father.
“This is an exceptional new research finding that opens the door to an entirely new area of exploration in human genetics,” said Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, PhD, professor of genetics and senior author of the paper.
“We’ve known that there are 95 genes that are subject to this parent-of-origin effect. They’re called imprinted genes, and they can play roles in diseases, depending on whether the genetic mutation came from the father or the mother. Now we’ve found that in addition to them, there are thousands of other genes that have a novel parent-of-origin effect.”
For the Nature Genetics study, Pardo-Manuel de Villena’s team, including first author James Crowley, PhD, assistant professor of genetics, found that the vast majority of genes – about 80 percent – possessed variants that altered gene expression.
“And this was when we discovered a new, genome-wide expression imbalance in favor of the dad in several hundred genes. This imbalance resulted in offspring whose brain gene expression was significantly more like their father’s,” Crowley said.
Pardo-Manuel de Villena said: “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.”