A chemical used as a food preservative, sodium benzoate, has been shown to be incorporated into the epigenome - the collection of markers in the genome that regulate how genes are expressed - by cells in culture. The findings, published in Nature Communications, suggest a potential mechanism for how a dietary component may be integrated into cells; however, further research is needed to determine if similar effects can be detected in living organisms that consume sodium benzoate.
There is growing evidence that our diet can affect health outcomes and life expectancy, and may also help to prevent certain diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and mental disorders. However, the mechanisms by which diet affects our physiology are not well understood. One possible way to modify cell function is through epigenetic regulation.
Yingming Zhao and colleagues used a proteomics and biochemistry approach to identify a novel histone post-translational modification in cells in culture: lysine benzoylation. The authors show that deposition of this histone mark can affect gene expression in cells, affecting different metabolism-related pathways, including insulin secretion. They identify sodium benzoate as a source of the substrate required for lysine benzoylation and find that it can stimulate the accumulation of this histone mark.