Genomic discovery could help understand obesity

Scientists have made a breakthrough in possibly understanding obesity at a greater level with a new study that has revealed genetic pathways underlying obesity. Scientists are optimistic that their findings could help develop more personalised ways to help people maintain a healthy weight.

The largest study of its kind, the study reports 74 previously unknown genomic regions that influence how people’s bodies break down food into energy. The study involved 8,809 people who had joined the NIHR BioResource. The BioResource is a bank of individuals who consented to be contacted about research projects.

The team looked at blood samples to measure levels of 722 metabolites. These provide a snapshot of an individual’s wellbeing and the mechanisms that control key physiological processes. Metabolite levels can be affected by nutrition, drugs and the gut microbiome. However, the way the body breaks down food is known to be strongly driven by a person’s genetics.

From analysing these alongside whole genome sequencing, the team identified 202 unique genomic regions whose variations are associated with the levels of 478 different metabolites. These included 74 genomic regions not associated with any metabolites in previous works. They confirmed the findings in an independent cohort of 1,768 people.

Senior author Dr Cristina Menni from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London said: “These results could have many practical implications. Human metabolism underlies a lot of different areas of human health and disease. Our findings could help understand certain diseases.

The World Health Organisation estimates that over four million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

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