What is all this talk and hype about obesity and obesity gene? Have scientists really identified an obesity gene? Studies do reveal that 80% of offspring born to obese parents are also obese. This would clearly suggest a strong genetic component but these suspicions cannot be confirmed unless the gene which is actually responsible for obesity is located. Although scientists were able to figure out there was a cogent biological force that causes obesity, all their efforts to prove the existence of an obesity gene met with failure and frustration until the mid-1980s. Health experts believe that in best case scenario obesity is caused by interaction of certain genetic and environmental factors. To make the matter more clear, there are 41 areas on the entire human genome which could trigger obesity. Studies have focused on gene variations from individual to individual known as single nucleotide polymorphisms. These are believed to be linked to obesity.
The closest they came to isolating an obesity gene is the FTO allele, the fat mass and obesity-associated gene.
The closest they came to isolating an obesity gene is the FTO allele, the fat mass and obesity-associated gene. They have also found a genetic variation on chromosome 18 which they believe is linked to obesity. All this however, did not sufficiently establish that whether a person born with this gene obese was doomed for life. Studies also found that those who had that gene could control their obesity or lessen their chances of developing the condition by moderate exercising for a couple of hours every day.
However ground-breaking research on obesity and obesity gene by Jeffrey Friedman, a fellow from Rockefeller University and a few others finally isolated the much elusive gene. Believe it or not, the obesity gene (ob) is actually there to prevent obesity and not to cause it. Friedman decided to take on this tiring journey in 1986. He started thinking outside the box by collecting and studying naturally mutant mice with specific traits. He named the mice by their attributes such as Fatty, Obese (Ob), diabetic (Db), Tubby and one with pronounced yellow fur coating calling it Ay. In essence the ob gene is present in fat cells and produces a protein that is transported to the bloodstream. In the protein are instructions to be communicated to the brain to signal satiety. The db gene also functions in similar fashion. If either gene is absent then we are prone to gaining weight. This is why so many obese humans are also diabetic. Experimentation with mice helped researchers to locate ob and db genes in humans as well. The magic protein we are talking about is leptin – a protein which helps speed up metabolism. We must produce enough leptin so our brain can understand the need to consume less food as the protein works by diminishing appetite. Leptin plays a vital part in other homeostatic bodily functions like keeping normal body temperature, virility and maintain adequate fat and glucose levels.
The magic protein we are talking about is leptin – a protein which helps speed up metabolism.
While the hype around the discovery of leptin since 1994 has remained, it needs to be made clear that people naturally produce lots of leptin and have gradually become tolerant to it – this means that this magic protein loses its efficiency. But hopefully Friedman and Co. who worked so hard in researching obesity and obesity gene will wave their magic wand again and find a way of getting over that too.
- Karl M McDonald is a free lance writer specializing in the field of genetics and DNA testing. Articles by the author can be found on many blogs and info sites, including the article knowledge base for easyDNA Canada . Karl M McDonald currently lives in West Sussex, UK with his wife, kids and 2 dogs.