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Genetic ‘Conflict’ May Affect Obesity


Scientists at the Babraham Institute have discovered that conflict between genes inherited from our parents may affect our ability to adapt to life after birth, and have lasting effects on our weight. We inherit similar sets of genes from both our parents, but of a small number of genes only one of the copies is active, the copy from the other parent being ‘imprinted’ to be silent.

The research group, headed by Dr Gavin Kelsey has published a study in Nature Genetics which describes the effects of altering an imprinted gene in mice that specifies a controller of hormone action. This shows that imprinting has important effects on the way young interact with their mothers, and how they regulate their food intake and metabolism.

This work provides more evidence that instead of co-operating, some genes that we inherit from our parents can be in conflict. The imprinted genes received from fathers make greater demands on mothers, whilst imprinted genes from mothers are more conservative. It appears to be crucial that we have the right balance of imprinted genes.

Dr Kelsey comments “Our work also shows that this balance may be important for a wide range of physiological effects relevant to our health, such as controlling blood sugar and obesity. Although removing the imprinted gene leads to ‘slim’ mice, more work needs to be done before we can apply this theory to humans”.

Emma Southern | alfa
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