Page URL:

Is Westerners' love of junk food and booze genetic?

18 July 2011
Appeared in BioNews 616

Scottish scientists have identified a genetic region that may have a role to play in why humans crave 'fatty foods'. The researchers, from Aberdeen University, identified a DNA region close to the galanin (GAL) gene that helps to regulate the production of this protein.

Galanin is a neuropeptide – a protein-like molecule found in the brain – that has an important regulatory role in the hypothalamous and amygdala regions. The former region has many functions, including a role in controlling appetite and thirst, while the latter is believed to be involved in emotion. The study itself looked at GAL gene function and regulation in both animals and humans.

The scientists discovered that different genetic variants close to the GAL gene affected how much protein was produced. The researchers found that two specific bases – the letters that make up DNA, being G, A, C or T – in this region were different in certain populations. For example, CA variants were more common in Asians than Europeans. They also found that CA variants were less active than GG variants, reducing the amount of protein produced. 

Earlier studies in animals showed that increased levels of GAL protein meant that they were more likely to seek out calorific foods. The scientists involved in the latest study speculated that evolutionary pressures might have caused the CA variant to be less common in Europeans, because of the colder climate and the need for people to eat more calorie rich foods in order to survive.

This is only a theory and the researchers are careful to note that their data does not necessarily support these wider conclusions. However, the leader of the study, Dr Alasdair Mackenzie, told the Daily Mirror: 'If it [the GAL gene] is turned on too strongly, we are more likely to crave fatty foods and alcohol'.

Other groups claim to have found genetic variants in the same region that they believe are linked to major depressive disorder (MDD). Scientists have long suggested that mood, appetite and eating behaviour are closely linked.

This research was funded by a number of organisations, including the Wellcome Trust and UK Medical Research Council; and the findings were published in Neuropsychopharmacology Journal.

8 January 2018 - by Dr Charlott Repschlager 
Drinking alcohol damages blood stem cells by altering their DNA, raising the risk of developing cancer, scientists have found.
10 October 2016 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy 
Scientists at Cambridge University have shown a genetic variant increases a person's preference for high fat food...
8 December 2014 - by Jenny Sharpe 
Alcohol dependence may be determined by a set of genes that work together as a network, according to a US study...
14 July 2014 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
Even light alcohol consumption is a risk for cardiovascular health, a genetic study has found, contradicting previous reports that moderate drinking can be beneficial for the heart...
2 December 2013 - by Dr Naqash Raja 
A gene mutation has been linked to alcohol preference in lab mice, a team of researchers from five UK universities has found...
4 July 2011 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy 
Scientists have linked a so-called ‘lean gene’ to an increased likelihood of developing heart disease and type II diabetes....
23 May 2011 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
Scientists say they have found a 'master regulator' gene, KLF14, which controls how active some fat metabolism genes are in your fat cells....
6 December 2010 - by Harriet Vickers 
Overweight families have overweight cats, Detroit has a higher murder rate than the UK and a flock of goldfinches is called a charm. All these effects are evidently mainly environmental. They're caused by overfeeding, more gangs and guns, and the standard and focus of education, respectively. But Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, UK, argued last week these factors are often overlooked because of our obsession with genetics...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.