October 11, 2010

Possible Genetic Causes Of Obesity, Body Shape Discovered

A series of genetic variations linked to fat, obesity, and body shape have been discovered by an international team of 400 experts from more than 250 research institutions.

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Nature Genetics on Sunday, found a total of 30 different variations which could help explain why some people are overweight, as well as why some people have apple or pear shaped physiques.

One study, led by researchers at Oxford University and the Medical Research Council, involved the analysis of the genetic codes of over 77,000 individuals. They were looking for regions which could be linked to differences in body fat distribution, according to a BBC News report, and discovered 13 areas which could help determine whether fat is more likely to be stored in the waist or the hips.

The researchers note that the genetic variations have a stronger impact on women than men, and that the 13 regions also include functions linked to the development of diabetes, including the controlling of cholesterol and insulin.

"By finding genes that have an important role in influencing whether we are apple-shaped or pear-shaped, and the ways in which that differs between men and women, we hope to home in on the crucial underlying biological processes," Oxford's Cecilia Lindgren said in a statement.

"Understanding biology through finding genes is just a first step in a long journey towards treatment, but it is a vital one. As efforts to tackle obesity through changes in lifestyle or by different treatment options have proved extremely challenging, the potential to alter patterns of fat distribution may offer an alternative for future drug discovery," Lindgren, the senior researcher of the study, added.

In the second study, also published by Nature Genetics, researchers searched for genes connected to body mass index (BMI). The second study, which involved nearly 250,000 subjects, found 18 new genetic regions linked to the weight-to-height ratio measurement often used to help determine obesity. Among those genes pinpointed by researchers are those that influence appetite.

"We should not forget that, while the genetic contribution to obesity is substantial, a large part of obesity susceptibility remains down to our lifestyle," Ruth Loos of the Medical Research Council's Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge told Kate Kelland of Reuters on Sunday. "These two studies are the beginning of new insights into to biology of obesity and body shape, which in turn may lead to more targeted approaches to obesity prevention and potentially to the development of new drugs."


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