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Common gene variant affects risk of obesity

17 April 2007
Appeared in BioNews 403

UK researchers have discovered that a common gene variant helps explain why some people are more prone to gaining excess weight than others. Adults and children with two copies of a particular version of the FTO gene are, on average, three kilograms heavier than people who do not have the variant. The team, lead by researchers at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter and Oxford University, first identified the variant during a search for genes that influence the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Their findings, published online by the journal Science, are based on data from around 39,000 people.

While the 'obesity epidemic' of recent years is probably due to changes in diet and lifestyle, previous evidence from twin studies strongly suggested that genes also play a role in weight gain. A US study published last year claimed that variations in the INSIG2 gene contribute to the likelihood of obesity, but their findings have not been replicated in all populations. In contrast, there's 'very strong evidence' that the FTO gene affects body weight, according to geneticist David Altshuler.

Half of all white Europeans carry one copy of the FTO variant, which confers a 30 per cent increased risk of obesity. Around 16 per cent carry two copies, which together carry a 70 per cent increased risk. The team don't yet know what the normal role of the FTO gene is in the body, but they hope that further studies will help shed light on the biological basis of obesity - the variant could make people burn calories less efficiently, or it could influence appetite, for example. Team leader Mark McCarthy believes the gene could be a useful target for new drugs to tackle obesity, although he stresses that the recent rise in the incidence of the condition are down to diet. 'The gene pool hasn't changed in 20 or 30 years', he told New Scientist, adding 'I don't think you can say that [the FTO gene variant] has caused the obesity problem'.

Clear obesity gene link 'found'
BBC News Online |  12 April 2007
Hunt for obesity gene yields a new suspect
New Scientist |  12 April 2007
Mysterious, Widespread Obesity Gene Found Through Diabetes Study
Science |  13 April 2007
Obesity is not just gluttony - it may be in your genes
The Guardian |  13 April 2007
26 April 2010 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
The obesity-related gene FTO also plays a role in loss of brain tissue, according to a US study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week...
22 March 2009 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
British scientists have found that a common gene variant that predisposes carriers to obesity is also linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS has long been known to be associated with obesity but the new study is the first to identify a genetic link between the two...
2 March 2009 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
New research into the role played by the FTO gene in obesity has been published in the journal Nature, showing that the gene may function in metabolism. The FTO (fat-mass and obesity associated) gene has been linked to obesity in the past, which has provoked much interest...
19 January 2009 - by Adam Fletcher 
A new study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, may explain why certain genetic variations increase a person's risk of obesity. Professor Jane Wardle and team at University College London, UK, have demonstrated associations between particular variants of the FTO gene, and the likelihood of overeating...
16 December 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
People who carry a specific variant of a gene have a preference to eat more fattening foods, and eat up to 100 more calories per meal, say scientists at the University of Dundee, Scotland. A study investigated the eating habits of 100 children aged four to ten...
17 April 2006 - by BioNews 
Researchers based in the US have identified a genetic variation that substantially increases a person's risk of obesity. The research team, based at the Boston University Medical School in Massachusetts, found that small genetic changes in a region of DNA near a gene called INSIG2, can increase the likelihood of...
18 July 2005 - by BioNews 
Scientists at Imperial College London have announced that they have discovered a gene linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Defective versions of the gene ENPP1 disrupt the way the body stores energy and handles sugar by blocking the hormone insulin. Philippe Froguel and his team found that children with...
31 January 2005 - by BioNews 
The European Commission has launched a new 14.5 million euro project to find out how diet and genetic factors combine to cause obesity. The DiOGenes project, to be carried out by 30 organisations from 15 countries, will involve collecting DNA from over 13,000 Europeans. It will apparently be 'the most...
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