Eating your greens alters your genes CONSIDER the Brussels sprout: small, unassuming and ostensibly good

for you. This is no mere side dish. A landmark study by the scientist Chen-Yu Zhang of Nanjing University in China suggests that this dinky member of the cabbage family - along with rice, broccoli and possibly all the plants you eat - changes the behavior of your genes in ways that are new to science. The study suggests that the food¶s genetic material survives digestion and circulates through the body. We are not only eating 'materials', we are also eating 'information' Fragments of plant RNA have been found swimming in the bloodstreams of people and cows. Plant miRNAs could make into the host blood and tissues via the route of food-intake. Moreover, once inside the host, they can elicit functions by regulating host "target" genes and thus regulate host physiology. The genetic material in question is microRNA, also called miRNA. MiRNA is a post-transcriptional regulator, usually resulting in translation repression meaning that they impair translation and therefore may change gene expressions. It consists of tiny strands of RNA between 19 and 24 nucleotides long, so very few compared to another RNA molecule. It is found in almost all cells with a nucleus and travels from cell to cell in the blood. Zhang wondered whether all the miRNA strands in our blood are made by our cells - or whether some comes from our food instead. He and his team drew blood from 31 healthy Chinese men and women, and also from cows. They treated the samples with sodium periodate, an oxidising agent that forms mammalian miRNA. Crucially, it leaves the plant miRNA untouched. Zhang found some 30 known plant miRNAs floating in the blood of the people and cows. Two miRNAs were present in particularly high concentrations: MIR168a and MIR156a, which we will call 168a and 156a. They are abundant in rice and members of the Brassicaceae family, including the Brussels sprout, broccoli, cabbage. Surprisingly, Zhang found 168a and 156a in the livers, small intestines and lungs of mice. Given the prominence of rice in the Chinese diet - coupled with the fact that cooking does not destroy the plant miRNAs - Zhang concluded that those in the human blood samples came from food. That plant miRNA survives digestion and circulates through the body was surprising enough. But Zhang wanted to know whether plant miRNA remains functional in animal blood. Results showed that miRNA changes gene expression by binding to strands of target messenger RNA and preventing enzymes from translating the strands into a protein.

meaning the organism¶s hereditary information. . When he injected the mice with a genetic sequence inactivating 168a. For example. 168a from rice survives digestion. rat and mice genomes. levels of the cholesterol-removing protein did not drop. it can also change gene expression. They found around 50 genes that 168a might turn up or down. Then Zhang fed mice raw rice or injected them with 168a. an essential photosynthesis gene found in soya bean leaves turned up in the intestines. for sequences that complemented 168a. a plant miRNA is capable of raising cholesterol levels in mice Zhang is unsure how the miRNAs escaped from the digestive fluids and enzymes in the gut. which soon began producing unusually low levels of LDLRAP1. food can change gene expression in other ways. And it was recently revealed that the hypnotically green sea slug Elysia chlorotica steals genes for photosynthesis from the algae it eats. cosmetics researchers recently suggested that a pill containing a mix of food extracts can influence our genes and boost collagen production in the skin. Zhang's team searched the human. Even if RNA or DNA does not pass unscathed from food to eater. Zhang added 168a to a dish of human intestinal cells. reducing the appearance of wrinkles If Zhang's findings are replicated. The cells packaged the 168a into tiny bubbles and released them.To find out if 168a changes gene expression in animals. in mice at least. the evidence suggests that. Together. First. we may discover that our blood is swimming with RNA from all kinds of plants. The discovery opens up a new way to turn food into medicine: we may be able to design plants that change our genes for the better. short LDLRAP1. including turning down the gene for the low density lipoprotein receptor adapter protein 1. Put simply. Zhang and the team found that not only does 168a survive in animal cells. For instance. Zhang poured these bubbles onto mammalian liver cells. liver and spleen of mice fed the leaves. and found that levels of this protein dropped and levels of cholesterol rose. inhibits production of a protein and boosts cholesterol levels in the blood. In a series of experiments. a liver protein that removes LDL and therefore the "bad cholesterol" from the blood. But substantial research suggests that not all genetic matter from food dissolves in the stomach and intestines.

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