Search on for genetic laziness

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The Independent Online
A TEAM of Scottish scientists is seeking a genetic explanation for why some people are confirmed couch potatoes, while others are always chipper. Professor Susan Ward of Glasgow University, who is leading the research, said the work would build on a study last year which found that a single gene can decide whether a fruit fly is an energetic "rover", constantly on the move, or a laid-back "sitter" which mostly does nothing.

The genetic difference may lead in humans to what Professor Ward calls "exercise intolerance", where people are reluctant to do physical work.If it wins funding, the study will draw on children and adults in the region, which has a poor health record, despite the growing availability of sports centres and exercise classes for people of all ages.

"I think it's important to establish whether there's a genetic component to exercise intolerance because it will give pointers about how to improve our strategies for getting long-term adherence to exercise programmes," said Professor Ward. "People who don't like exercise are usually seen as lazy, but maybe it's not their fault."

If humans have a corollary of the fly's laziness gene it would be surprising. Though various scientists have claimed to have found genes for human behaviour such as criminality, fearfulness and risk-taking, none has ever been proven to the satisfaction of the scientific community.

Professor Ward thinks it will be worth searching for the gene - though one of the first problems that the project might face would be recruiting the people who might have it. Dedicated idlers might be hard to tear away from the television.

"We would probably have to advertise," said Professor Ward. "But the other group, the exercising one, would be easy to get - we'd just advertise in health clubs. In fact we would probably end up turning some away."