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Scientists are moving closer to understanding how genes determine the birth weight

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Posted May 2, 2019

You are weighed for the first time almost immediately after birth. The weight of the newborn is a very important health indicator. Now scientists from the University of Queensland conducted a large study providing insights into genes and their role at determining the birth weight of a child. In total scientists identified 190 links between the genetic code and birth weight.

Weighing a baby in 1950. Image credit: Vojnich Pál via Wikimedia

Everyone wants their children to be healthy. Low birth weight is associated with higher mortality, bigger risks of diabetes, high blood pressure and many other conditions later in life. A healthy birth weight is very important, which is why they weight babies almost immediately after birth. Although there are other factors involved, scientists determined that the baby’s genes made a substantial contribution to birth weight. Researchers identified 190 links between the genetic code and birth weight – a third of them have not been known up until now. Around of the quarter of genetic effects identified in this study came from the mother’s genes.

For a long time scientists thought that baby’s birth weight is largely determined by the mother. Obviously, genetic make-up is important, but previously scientists believed that mother’s body is more influential in this regard. Now scientists found that baby’s own genes are affecting the intrauterine environment during pregnancy. For example, genetics could determine the amount of glucose available. This was the first study to separate the influence of mother’s and baby’s genes on the birth weight. Scientists say that it is very important, because identifying separate factors will eventually lead to new therapies that will help ensuring that babies are born at healthy weights.

But why weight is so important? Scientists took a closer look at the link between birth weight and diseases in later life. They found that smaller babies are more likely to have higher blood pressure in adulthood. And it is just one example – smaller babies can expect a range of different health conditions later in life. Dr Nicole Warrington, one of the authors of the study, said: “The methods we have developed to disentangle maternal and fetal genetic influences on birth weight have real potential to tell us also about the effects of the intrauterine environment on later-life outcomes”.

Doctors have been weighing babies for decades. It is very important and everyone knows that. However, we do not know how to reliably ensure that the baby is not going to be born too light. Understanding the relationship between genes and the birth weight could help avoiding birth weight issues.

 

Source: University of Queensland

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