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Genes Identified for Common Childhood Obesity

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Led by Jonathan P. Bradfield, Hakon Hakonarson and Robert I. Berkowitz, the Early Growth Genetics (EGG) Consortium conducted the largest ever genome-wide study of common childhood obesity, which was initiated in 1989 when 2900 pregnant women were enrolled in the research and their children have been studied over the past 21 years. (PTI) While extreme forms of obesity had previously been studied in detail, common childhood obesity was thought to be due to environmental factors like food choices and lack of exercise. However, studies on twins and families led to the conclusion that some genetic component was involved. The researchers have identified a new locus near OLFM4 gene on chromosome 13 and another one in the HOXB5 gene on chromosome 17, which have now been found to be related to obesity in children. While the exact way in which the genes act has not been found, research hints that the intestine is involved. (Jaslow)

Genes are the basic units of heredity in living organisms and are encoded on DNA strands (deoxyribonucleic acid) or RNA, which consequently, get passed on to the offspring and determine its traits. DNA is nothing but two long chains of nucleotides with a sugar and phosphate group backbone. There are 4 types of nucleotides in DNA – Adenine, Guanine, (A and G are purines) Thymine and Cysteine (T and C are pyrimidines), which together bind together with hydrogen bonds to hold the two DNA strands together. The genetic code is read in “codons” comprising of groups of 3 nucleotides (example, ACT, CAG, TTT). The genes encoded on DNA express themselves by transcribing the genes into RNA (transcription), which either serves as the functional product or as messenger RNA, which is an intermediary for translation into proteins. However, now the impact of some genes can be removed or controlled by means of genetic medicine, which includes gene therapy (possible supplementing or alteration of the offending gene), personalized medicine and even predictive medicine (predicting disease and initiating preventive measures to decrease impact of genes). Metabolic or nutritional therapy is also an option which can be studied once the exact way in which the gene expresses itself is known.

This article comes as a very positive piece of news since almost 1 in 3 children these days are obese and now, possibly a cure will be found. Ever since television and video games have become popular with children and Internet has become a way of life, people have assumed that obese children are the lazy or inactive ones who do not get enough exercise and that they, or their parents are to be blamed for their unhealthy condition. However, this article has been enlightening and will probably give me a completely new perspective about overweight kids. Hopefully, in the near future, science will lead to availability of customized treatments for child obesity based on the individual’s genome. Also, now that the genes have been discovered, research can be initiated on developing specialized medicines that act on those genes and reduce their effect, leading to healthier children.

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