University of Virginia Researchers Identify 14 Genes That Cause Obesity and 3 That Prevent It

Generally, many predisposing gene variants are present in almost half of the American adult population, who suffer from obesity. However, from the University of Virginia, the department of cell biology worked together with the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center, to show that 14 genes from this pool are the actual culprits that cause obesity. Moreover, they illustrated a genetic approach to preventing and treating obesity.

Obese Man

Obese Man

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The process

The research team, led by Eyleen O’Rourke, meticulously uncoupled the overlap between nutrition, obesity, and genetics. The principle behind discovering causative genes for treatment is to regulate certain processes leading to obesity, as the conversion of excessive food to fat. From her words, “We anticipate that our approach and the new genes we uncovered will accelerate the development of treatments to reduce the burden of obesity”, it is clear that obesity is not coincidental, but rather it runs down the line.

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For this life-changing research, O’Rourke and her team turned to a determinant of three Nobel prize-winning species of worms that share 70% of the human genome, Caenorhabditis Elegans. These worms feed on rotting vegetables and would become obese from high sugar intake. They carried out a mindful test to determine causative and preventive genes while screening 293 genes that might be related to obesity. They worked by creating a test model where they fed some of the worms regular food and the others,  food containing high fructose. The ones present with the genes that are against obesity showed no signs of obesity but the genes provided better neuro-locomotor function and longer life span. The preventive genes prompted high sensitivity of insulin and induced low blood sugar levels. Therefore in the absence of obesity,  the worms had a more organized movement system, a higher chance of attaining the life expectancy age. These worms have proven very important in determining the mechanism used by antidepressants and the glucose-stabilizing metformin. They were also vital in the improvement of therapeutics with  RNA technology.

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In a tone of urgency, O’Rourke said that the need for anti-obesity therapies is very immediate for the sake of the patients, and the financial situation of the nation. Also with relief, she noted that with efficacy and minimal side effects as strong points, this development would have a successful clinical trial.

Final thoughts

The various assumptions on the different innate causes of obesity; including the idea that the biological processes outside the traditional organs investigated in obesity research, such as fat cells or brain cells could be a risk factor in obesity should be discarded. The discovery and conclusion on the role of these genes also don’t trump the role of nutrition, lifestyle and some other external factors play in weight gain or the absence of it. Instead, we are assured of a high-yield means of tackling the epidemic now that the target genes that play a direct role in weight gain have been identified.

Read Also: Diabetes and Obesity: Bariatric Surgery Reduces the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer


Genes in human obesity loci are causal obesity genes in C. Elegans

Obesity and genetics – PubMed (

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