A Genetic Switch Could Turn Obesity On Or Off

Feb 5, 2016

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Claire Maldarelli

Science does not yet really understand the underlying causes of obesity. A new research study, though, may have uncovered a remarkable mechanism–essentially a biological on/off switch for obesity. The work, which was published yesterday in the journal Cell, could help researchers develop better therapies to combat obesity.

Their idea is based on epigenetics–the concept that things like your height, weight, and other physical traits are based on not just what genes you inherit, but also the interaction of those genes with the environment you live in. Depending on that interaction, certain genes can turn on or off other genes–one of the main reasons why identical twins sometimes don’t look so identical.

The researchers focused on a particular gene, named Trim28, which they found affected weight in mice–making them either lean or obese, but nothing in between. To understand Trim28 in humans, they studied 13 sets of identical twins in which one twin was obese and the other was lean. The researchers found less activity of Trim28 in the obese twins’ cells compared to their lean twin.

Scientists already knew that Trim28 can affect other genes that influence weight, so the researchers concluded that Trim28 may act as an epigenetic switch to either turn obesity on or off by suppressing or activating a set of genes that control weight.

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