Dr. Adelheid Soubry and Dr. Cathrine Hoyoof, both of the Newborn Epigenetics Study at Duke University Hospital, said data were collected about parental weight and compared with their newborn's epigenetic -- gene -- data.
DNA contains the genetic information children inherit from their parents, but epigenetic imprinting, such as DNA methylation, controls how active these genes are, the researchers explained.
DNA methylation is a biochemical process that alters the expression of genes in cells as they divide and differentiate from embryonic stem cells into specific tissues. The resulting change is normally permanent and unidirectional, preventing one organism from reverting back to a stem cell or converting into another type of tissue.
IGF2 (gene) codes for a growth factor that is important mainly during fetal development, but aberrant control of this gene, including DNA hypomethylation, has been implicated in cancer.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found the gene IGF2 was found in newborns with obese fathers, but not obese mothers.
"During spermatogenesis some regions in the DNA may be sensitive to environmental damage; these effects can be transmitted to the next generation," Soubry, the study leader, said in a statement. "It is possible that (mal)nutrition or hormone levels in obese fathers, leads to incomplete DNA methylation, or to unstable genomic imprinting of sperm cells. Further research is necessary to confirm our findings."