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Feast or Famine: Understanding Gene Expression

The learning resources presented in these web pages explore how environment during early development impacts gene expression throughout life. You will learn about the work that scientists in New Zealand are undertaking to try to understand more about this important phenomenon.

About the Learning Resources


The age of onset of puberty varies between different individuals although, in general, children are reaching puberty earlier now than in previous decades. Scientists are now sure that improved childhood conditions (for example, better nutrition) contribute to the change in timing of puberty. However, this is not the only cause. Scientists from the Liggins Institute and the National Research Centre for Growth and Development have shown that the nutritional environment that a fetus experiences in the womb has a strong influence on the age at which puberty starts. If the mother eats a high-fat diet or is undernourished when the fetus grows up it is more likely to start puberty early. They have also found that as these offspring grow up they are more likely to have learning difficulties, eat more, exercise less, become obese and suffer from type two diabetes and/or high blood pressure.

Resource Links


What is Gene Expression?

A page for teachers and senior students summarising the key concepts associated with epigenetics and the effect of environment on gene expression.



Understanding Gene Expression Case Study

Learn how scientists gather evidence about how the food that animal mothers were given to eat during pregnancy affected the age at which their offspring entered puberty.



My First 1000 Days

This resource explores what scientists believe makes our first 1000 days so important. Find out more about the link between early-life nutrition and life-long well-being.



Discussion Questions

Resource questions designed to further discussion on the subject of gene expression.


Question and Answer

Challenge Questions

Further questions on the subject of gene expression designed to stimulate more in-depth conversation and learning.



Seminar Recording

An in-stream version of the seminar series the resources on these web pages originate from.



Seminar Paper

Download the seminar paper.



Links to Curriculum and Assessment of Learning

Information for teachers on how these resources link to current curriculum objectives.



Further Resources

Additional resources for teachers to further understand the resources presented in these web pages.