Understanding the ancestral causes of obesity


Our behaviour, what we eat and how much we exercise, can lead to epigenetic changes to our DNA. Changes which can potentially be passed on to our children if they occur in certain parts of the body, such as sperm or eggs. We are working to understand how to optimise epigenetic changes for improved health for ourselves and our future children.

We cannot change our genes but we can change how genes are regulated, thereby altering health within both our own bodies, and also within our children.

GECKO is a consortium of researchers working to understand these epigenetic changes, and how we can edit our lifestyle in order to generate a healthy epigenetic signature. We are particularly interested in the epigenetic signature of sperm cells, due to the impact that this has on the health of a man’s future children.

Main Research Areas

Comparative Epigenomics

We collaborate with Copenhagen Zoo and Taronga Zoo in Sydney to collect sperm samples from many different animal species. The aim of the study is to produce a map of what the sperm epigenome looks like in a range of species, and compare these epigenomes to see how much they differ across the animal kingdom. This comprehensive mapping of the sperm epigenome allows us to better understand the role of epigenetics in evolutionary biology and species differentiation.

Gametic Nutritional Epigenetics

We are conducting several nutritional intervention studies, including in mice, pigs and humans. The aim of these projects is to expose male subjects to different diets, and determine how these diets change the epigenetic features in their sperm cells. Studying the sperm epigenome allows us to not only determine diet-induced epigenetic changes in men themselves, but also how this altered nutrition may influence their future child via epigenetic changes in sperm being passed on to offspring. 

Functional Genomics

Currently, we understand that when the epigenome of a sperm cell is altered, the offspring produced from that sperm may have some inherited characteristics.  However, there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding how epigenetic changes in gametes lead to changes in the subsequent child.  We are researching how epigenetic changes in the sperm cells effect the health of the child through alteration to the development of an embryo. We take an in-depth look at the 3D architecture of the DNA in both fathers and their offspring, in order to address these questions.

Our Studies

Primary Location

Study progress

GECKO is a consortium of researchers, who are working to understand how to make these changes for the best.