Scientists Discover Gene That Causes Increased Weight Gain From The Same Food

Could this be you?

Scientists Discover Gene That Causes Increased Weight Gain From The Same Food

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Scientists have discovered a gene variant causing obesity in certain individuals, opening doors to targeted treatments and reducing stigma.

Losing weight is bloody hard, even with breakthroughs like the ‘brown fat’ weight loss turbocharger on the horizon. However, a breakthrough from scientists in the UK has revealed that individuals with a certain blood type may have a way harder time keeping the extra kilos off than others.

Scientists from the University of Exeter, along with international collaborators, have discovered that a specific genetic variant impacting the catchily-named SMIM1 gene is linked to higher body weight in people with a certain blood type. This discovery not only sheds some much-needed light on the complex interplay of genetics and metabolism but also opens up potential new treatment avenues for obesity.

The Role Of ‘SMIM1’

The SMIM1 gene — identified a decade ago during research on the Vel blood group — plays a crucial role in regulating body weight. People who lack both copies of this gene, making them ‘Vel-negative’, are genetically predisposed to expend less energy at rest, leading to a higher body weight. The study analysed nearly 500,000 participants from the UK Biobank, identifying a subset of people with this variant. The research found that women with the variant weigh an average of 4.6 kg more, and men weigh 2.4 kg more compared to those without the variant.

Man eating a burger
Turns out it might not just be the food you eat that impacts your weight. Image: Innerbody

However, the research suggests that the absence of SMIM1 affects far more than just weight. People without both copies of the gene showed other ‘obesity-related markers’, such as elevated fat levels in the blood, dysfunctional fat tissue, increased liver enzymes, and reduced thyroid hormone levels. Co-author Jill Storry from Lund University, Sweden, expressed excitement over the discovery:

“SMIM1 was only discovered a decade ago, as a long-sought blood group protein on red blood cells, but its other function has remained unknown until now. It’s very exciting to find that it has a more general role in human metabolism.”

Jill Storry

Treatment Potential

The discovery of the SMIM1 gene’s role in obesity provides a promising avenue for developing targeted treatments. The research team is already exploring the effectiveness of an existing thyroid dysfunction drug to treat obesity in individuals lacking SMIM1.

Lead author Mattia Frontini emphasised the significance of this research:

“Our findings highlight the need to investigate the genetic cause of obesity, to select the most appropriate and effective treatment, but also to reduce the social stigma associated to it.”

Mattia Frontini

By understanding the genetic underpinnings of obesity, scientists aim to create tailored medical interventions that could significantly improve the quality of life for those affected. The implications of this research extend beyond individual health outcomes, offering a potential reduction in the economic burden of obesity-related diseases on healthcare systems worldwide.

Obesity rates in Australia by age group
Obesity rates here in Australia. Image: SugarByHalf

The research, published in Med and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and the British Heart Foundation, involved partners from the University of Cambridge, the Sanger Institute, Copenhagen University, and Lund University. As first author Dr. Luca Stefanucci from the University of Cambridge highlighted, the increasing availability of genetic data enhances the potential for identifying individuals at risk and providing them with targeted support.

With further investigation and clinical trials, this discovery could mark a pivotal step in the fight against obesity. When was the last time you got your blood tested? And could this help you shift those precious pounds? Let us know your thoughts.