Staffordshire, U.K.—For the first time, a connection between changes in  newborn babies’ DNA, prenatal folic acid supplementation and birth weight has been unearthed by a team of UK scientists. This study showed levels of a homocysteine, a critical folic acid metabolite, in newborn babies’ blood is linked to DNA modification in key genes.  Such changes may help predict birth weight. 

“Now we have identified which genes might be the link between folic acid and birth weight, we have opened the door to research that may allow doctors to predict the likelihood of low birth weight with greater certainty,”  said William Farrell,  who led the study. Farrell is a professor of human genomics at the Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine at the University of Keele, Staffordshire, England. 

Folic acid supplementation is critical for pregnant women to reduce the risk of neural tube defects and low birth weight delivery. This information has been known for many years yet scientists knew very little as to how this worked. Farrell’s study is the first to reveal particular gene modification in the baby’s DNA may be key in unearthing the secret of the folic acid action. This research also offers the possibility to intervene earlier in the pregnancy to prevent negative outcomes such as pregnancy loss and premature delivery. 

Fetal Epigenomics Group researchers examined the relationship between folic acid supplementation and its metabolites on DNA methylation in human blood from the umbilical cord. Researchers used state-of-the-art microarray techniques which concurrently examines DNA modification at 25,578 sites in the DNA. 

The research is published in the scientific journal, Epigenetics.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2011 (online 12/20/2010)