Obesity Gene Gives Up Its Secrets To Scientists

The obesity gene, long believed to be responsible for genetically-linked dispositions toward being overweight, has finally been cracked by scientists.

It has long been suspected that some people may have a genetic switch that creates a strong appetite that encourages people to eat in excess. Scientists have sought to understand how and why this gene works as it does. However, a new study, reports Yahoo! News, may have finally gotten a break the mystery.

Previously it was understood that one of the genes referred to as the “obesity gene,” called the FTO gene, was linked to hereditary obesity. Getting a copy of the FTO gene from each parent, a person has a higher risk of being overweight, if they have been given a “high-risk” FTO gene.

According to BBC, those who have two “high-risk” FTO genes, have been found to be 70 percent more likely to become overweight than those with low-risk genes.

Until now, the obesity gene’s secrets were a mystery to researchers. A new study headed by British researchers has shed important new light on the issue and may lead to solutions to a growing world health problem.

Two tests were conducted by researchers. The first examined levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin in people who had high-risk FTO genes versus those with low-risk genes. Scientists discovered that those with high-risk genes tended to produce ghrelin faster, and that the hormone tended to stay in their systems longer and at higher levels after eating a meal, over those with low-risk genes.

The British-lead research group conducted another test as well. This one examined brain scans of men, with varying types of obesity genes, after they were shown pictures of fatty foods. Men with high-risk genes had brain activity indicating higher interest than those with low-risk genes.

Referring to individuals with high-risk FTO, or obesity genes, Dr. Rachel Batterham, who headed the study, remarked that they are simply “biologically programmed to eat more” than is healthy.

This discovery linking the hormone ghrelin and the FTO gene could be significant in helping those with a genetic disposition toward obesity and overeating. Dr. Batterham, in the study, writes that lowering ghrelin levels could be the key.

While ghrelin may be able to be blocked with medication, the other solutions won’t be a surprise; exercise can lower the hormone’s levels.

The presence of the FTO, or obesity gene, is believed to have arrived in the human genome as a mutation thousands of years ago, allowing people to eat more — to put on pounds that would keep them warm in extreme climates.

[Image via ShutterStock]