Epigenetic effects of (early life) nutrition on ageing

During the last few decades health-span has increased but not to the same extent as lifespan. As a consequence, there is an increasing number of elderly people suffering from (often multiple) diseases, causing impaired quality of life for the individual and a serious financial burden on the society. Life-style factors, in particular nutrition, are commonly acknowledged for their beneficial as well as adverse health effects.

By regulating the expression of multiple genes, dietary factors can modify biological pathways and regulate metabolic processes. During the last decade, an extra dimension has been added to our knowledge of how nutrients affect the health status of the individual.


By modifying epigenetic marks, nutrition can program the body to either a healthy or a disease-prone phenotype, in particular during the early phase of life. Understanding the epigenetic mechanisms via which dietary factors can affect health, especially at old age when the body becomes vulnerable, is of crucial importance to improve healthy ageing. The main investigator within this research group at the Division of Human Nutrition is Wilma Steegenga.

Research topics

Diet-induced phenotypic plasticity during aging

Fenni Rusli is working as a PhD student on the IDEAL project. Her research is focused on nutrition-induced phenotypic plasticity during ageing. She investigates whether exposure to a healthy diet during the first phase of life can protect the liver against the effects of an unhealthy diet in the last phase of life via epigenetic mechanisms. Carolien Lute is the technician supporting this project.

Epigenetic effects of marine persistent organic pollutants

Myrthe van den Dungen is appointed as PhD student on a project of the research school VLAG entitled: Revealing epigenetic mechanisms behind delayed adverse health effects of dioxins. She investigates the effects of marine persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on gene expression and DNA methylation in differentiating adipocytes. This project is carried out in collaboration with Dr. Tinka Murk and Dr. Ellen Kampman.

Effects of micronutrient dietary intervention on DNA methylation in white blood cells

By applying Illumina 450K BeadChip analysis, Dr. Dieuwertje Kok explores the effect of folic acid and Vitamin B12 supplementation (B-proof study) on DNA methylation in white blood cells. This project is granted by the WCRF and is carried out in collaboration with Dr. Ellen Kampman.

Effects of early life nutrition

Within the STW project “you are what you ate: metabolic programming by early nutrition”, we investigate the effects of maternal exposure to a low-fat (LF) or Western-style diet (WSD) on the offspring. Differential gene expression was found in the liver between the offspring of LF- and WSD-fed mothers. In the colon, maternal exposure to a WSD resulted in changed gene expression as well as an altered composition of the colonic luminal content. This project is carried out in collaboration with Dr. Torsten Plosch and Dr. Henkjan Verkade from the UMCG.

Current key projects