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Passing on the Change

Environmental effects may be passed from father to offspring through epigenetic changes, the New York Times reports.

Carl Zimmer writes that a 2013 study uncovered epigenetic differences between children with lean fathers versus children with obese fathers, hinting that this difference in weight might be behind the epigenetic changes.

A new study, appearing in Cell Metabolism last week, adds to the idea. In it Danish researchers recount testing the sperm epigenomes of men before and after they underwent bariatric surgery. Surgery, they found, was associated with "a dramatic remodeling of sperm DNA methylation," especially at genetic regions linked to appetite control.

Zimmer notes that the researchers didn't speculate on what that might mean for the next generation. Other researchers tell him that the study had a small sample size — only six men — and so say caution should be used in drawing any broad conclusions.

But as Zimmer writes, the critics don't think that the Danish team is necessarily wrong. "I'd say, let's do a study of hundreds of people," John Greally from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine says. "It's doable. It just requires that we're bold about doing these things."