Scientists at the University of Virginia (USA) have identified 17 genes that cause or prevent obesity, according to their study published in the scientific journal PLOS Genetics on September 7.
While there are hundreds of identified genetic variants that are more likely to appear in people with obesity, their role in the development of the disease remains unproven.
“This uncertainty is a major obstacle to harnessing the ability of population genomics to identify targets for treating or curing obesity,” affirms Eyleen O’Rourke, one of the study’s authors.
In order to find out which genes are actually responsible for weight gain, the researchers used nematodes of the species ‘Caenorhabditis elegans’ (commonly known as roundworms) that share more than 70% of their genes with humans to investigate. 293 genes normally associated with obesity in humans. By dividing the nematodes into two groups with different types of diets – a normal or a high fructose diet – the scientists were able to build a model of obesity in nematodes.
The analysis of the model allowed to identify 14 genes that cause obesity and 3 genes that help slow weight gain. Interestingly, by blocking the activity of the 3 genes that prevented obesity, the researchers found that nematodes lived longer.
“We hope that our approach and the new genes we have discovered will accelerate the development of treatments to reduce the burden of obesity,” O’Rourke said, noting that obesity therapy “urgently needed” to help patients and the entire healthcare system.