30 Nov Epigenetics: Using Donor Eggs to Build a Family
If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, the high success rates of donor eggs are like the rays of the sun shining bright after a storm. The flipside of the storm is that while donor eggs can provide a renewed sense of hope and opportunity, it also leaves intended parents yearning for something they may never have: a direct genetic connection to their child.
How much does this weigh on the minds of intended parents? Can the absence of DNA may make you feel disconnected from your child? Let’s take a closer look at the science of epigenetics and how you can influence your baby to create the bond you’ve long awaited.
What is Epigenetics? How Does it Relate to Donor Eggs?
In simple terms, epigenetics is the study of how behaviors and environment can change how your body reads a DNA sequence. Epigenetic changes alter the physical structure of the DNA. DNA methylation is one example. Epigenetics does not change the actual DNA sequence but changes gene expression. A good example are identical twins. Over time, different exposure to pollution, stress, diet, and other environmental factors can cause identical twins to look and behave differently.
When donor eggs are placed into the recipient individual’s uterus, the recipient’s body and various environmental factors can influence the genetic presentation of the original donor’s genetic code. Even though a donor egg recipient may not be a direct genetic match to the baby in the womb, the recipient can impact the genetic development of their baby.
How does a Birth Mother Influence the Baby’s Genes in Utero?
While you may assume a developing baby’s genes are automatic, it is not precisely true. In fact, a birth parent or surrogate can influence the genetic makeup of a baby, thanks to extraordinary molecules known as MicroRNAs.
MicroRNAs are a class of non-coding RNAs that play important roles in regulating gene expression.
These MicroRNAs are released within an individual’s amniotic fluid, blood, placenta, endometrium, and umbilical cord throughout pregnancy. MicroRNAs regulate “cross talk” between the donor egg recipient and the developing child. While it is impossible to alter your child’s actual genetic code, MicroRNAs and epigenetics help control how those genes are expressed.
Many scientists, including David J. Barker who developed the “fetal-origin-hypothesis,” believe a baby’s quality of life inside the womb plays a significant role in their development and future health. For example, we know that babies with growth restriction in utero are at increased risk for future diabetes and heart disease.
By implementing healthy lifestyle choices, such as management of stress and a well-rounded diet and exercise routine before and after conception, parents can have a positive impact on the development of their child’s gene expression and future health.
Donor Eggs: Will the Baby Resemble Me?
Every egg consists genetic material from the entire gene pool, including parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Once the baby arrives, the display of genetics does not slow down. It is a process that lasts throughout an entire lifetime.
Although a donor egg recipient mother does not contribute maternal genes to the baby, she still has a profound impact on how the baby’s genes will be expressed throughout the individual’s entire life.