Genes, not greed, make you fat

Genes and hormones, and not how much you eat, make you fat.

Scientists at New York's Rockefeller University have made a discovery worth billions of dollars: a gene responsible for obesity in mice and humans. The university has filed for patents to cover the researchers' work, published in today's issue of Nature.

The discovery, by Jeffrey Friedman and five colleagues at the university, will make the diets beloved of magazines and health books redundant. The gene holds the key to the first rationally designed weight-loss pill, one virtually guaranteed to be effective.

Nearly a third of adults in the US are 20 per cent or more overweight. Obesity is a public health problem in all western countries, associated with conditions such as adult-onset diabetes and some cancers.

The gene represents the biochemical ''recipe'' for a hormone secreted by the body's fat cells. This hormone is central to how body weight is regulated: more fatty cells produce more hormone, which cuts appetite or raises energy consumption, thus cutting weight.

By reading the gene sequence, pharmaceutical companies will be able to manufacture the hormone artificially or devise ways of blocking its action. People will be able to alter their natural feedback mechanism and thus control their weight as they like.

Dr Timothy Rink, president of the Californian biotechnology company Amylin Pharmaceuticals, said earlier attempts to control appetite and weight were like ''controlling diabetes before insulin''. The discovery ''translates directly into medical and commercial programmes. A lot of companies that have an interest in metabolism will be very interested.''

Obesity in humans is not dictated by the genes, but by imbalance in the hormonal regulatory system. It is a medical rather than a behavioural problem, says Dr Rink. ''People who are obese - other than food addicts - come to a body weight determined by hormones. Trying to reduce weight by dieting is liable to fail because the basic controlling factor is working against them. Fat people regulate their weight, but at a point they do not feel comfortable with.''

But Dr Rink stressed that although the obesity gene was a key component of weight regulation, it was not the only one. By eating too much sugar ''you can move the balance point''. The gene discovery is not a universal answer, he warned, adding that it would take more than 10 years to produce a rational therapeutic.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence