Molecular Nutrition/Nutritional Genetics
A very brief history of the emergence of molecular nutrition
There has been a sea change in discipline emphasis within the field of human nutrition over the past 10-15 years. Dynamics have always existed within the subject: If we examine the past 100 years we can see there was a clear predilection with the biological effects of nutrient deficiency diseases during the first half of the twentieth century - pellagra is such an example - a serious and often fatal deficiency disease associated with a lack of vitamin B3 that was, at one time, a major problem in the US. This interest in 'too little' was supplanted in the mid 1980's by a preoccupation with too much - too much sugar, too much fat, and hence too much obesity. At the same time, nutritional research has often been dogged by equivocal and often contradictory research publications. This has frequently undermined public confidence in nutritional science. Fortunately, the advent in recent years of molecular biological approaches to problem solving has moved nutrition away from its origins into the front line of genomic research. Nutrients and genes conspire to modify disease risk, they interact to promote cellular function, and given their variable exogenous disposition, have provided a force for evolutionary selection pressures that have led to the emergence of modern man.
Today, we are interested in how a range of macro- and micronutrients, and phytochemicals influence the genome and thousands of gene products in a multidimensional view of cellular processes that we now refer to as nutrigenomics. We are at the dawn of the age of molecular nutrition. Molecular nutrition is a far more multidisciplinary subject than the nutritional sciences of old. It can address fundamental questions of human health that provide exquisite mechanistic explanations of cause and effect.
Molecular nutrition research at Ourimbah
Nutrition at Ourimbah takes an integrated approach to problem solving in recognition of advances in molecular biology that can help to explain how nutrients and genes conspire to influence human health. Academics in the area of nutrition and medicine are working together on various research programs examining how nutritional genetics modifies risk for a range of common, chronic developmental and degenerative disorders. B-vitamins (particularly folic acid) are critically important for cell division and growth, and for lowering homocysteine, an amino acid that acts as a risk factor for atherogenic and thrombogenic vascular disease. To give this context, homocysteine confers the same disease risk as cholesterol. Research within the molecular nutrition theme is looking at:
- B-vitamins and related genes as predictors of cardiovascular health in the elderly
- B-vitamins and related genes in the pathoaetiology of adenomatous polyps
- Folic acid and folate genes in autism
- Genetic and physical factors that can modify folic acid bioavailability
- The genetics of taste preference (TAS2R genes) and how this might modify disease risk via alterations to the diet
- Whether nutrient status at conception can select gene polymorphisms that modify subsequent adulthood disease
- Micronutrients and DNA damage
- B-vitamins and related genes in the pathoaetiology of dementia