Nutrition scientist predicts 'nutrigenomics' revolution


By E. J. Mundell

CHICAGO (Reuters Health) – A merging of genomics, nutrition and medicine may mean that "you are what you eat" will become "you eat what you are"–and even that consumers of the future will tailor their grocery lists to their DNA.

"A new nutritional paradigm–the genetic era of nutrition" is at hand, nutritional science consultant Dr. Nancy Fogg-Johnson, of Life Sciences Alliance in Pleasanton, California said here Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

In a speech about the coming age of "nutrigenomics," Dr. Fogg-Johnson said the line between food and drug is blurring. People already make "dietary choices based on genetics," she pointed out, such as the switch from milk to soy by the lactose-intolerant, and the switch from butter to cholesterol-lowering margarine by those at risk of cardiovascular disease.

The next step, she said, will be for industry to provide consumers with quick, cheap methods of assessing their genetic profiles so they can make informed decisions about what to eat. As an example, Dr. Fogg-Johnson noted that individuals with just one mutation in a specific gene might need a higher-than-average intake of folate-rich foods, such as fortified breads, so that they could fully protect themselves from heart disease.

Nutrigenomics could become a central concern throughout the lifespan, she added. Children could be tested for their DNA in infancy, to make sure their diets put them on the road to lifelong health.

In fact, Dr. Fogg-Johnson envisions the day when shoppers routinely hand over a copy of their DNA sequence during every trip to the druggist or grocery store. Food production and delivery could also be tailored, with specific products aimed at groups of consumers sharing the same genetic makeup.

Of course, obstacles remain. Privacy issues over who owns an individual's sequence will need to be addressed, and much needs to be done to streamline technologies so that genetic testing becomes more accessible and affordable. But already, the "scientific continuums of nutrition and genomics have absolutely merged," Dr. Fogg-Johnson said, noting that several small US companies already offer genetic profiling directly to individuals.

"The technology to accomplish this in an economically feasible, consumer-relevant way is becoming a reality," she said.

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