Obesity can also result in altered growth of babies during pregnancy. The results of this work point towards a potential future therapy to restore 'natural' fertility in obese women, and to prevent multi-generational damage passing onto their children, said lead author Rebecca Robker from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"In our laboratory studies, we have been able to unravel a key mechanism that leads to this multi-generational damage, and we have found a way to stop it happening," Robker pointed out.

The research team found that obesity leads to a particular stress response that causes damage to the mitochondria, which are critical energy-producing 'organs' within living cells.

All of the mitochondria in our bodies come from our mother. If the mother is obese, this produces stresses that lead to reduced transmission of mitochondria to the offspring.

"It restored egg quality, embryo development and mitochondrial DNA to levels equivalent to those of a healthy mother. Effectively, the problem was fully reversed," Robker added.

The study was published in the journal Development.

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