While others may be dieting and hitting the gym hard to stay in shape, some people stay slim effortlessly no matter what they eat.
In a new study, researchers used a genetic database of more than 47,000 people to identify a gene linked to thinness that may play a role in resisting weight gain.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of British Columbia.
We all know these people: it’s around one percent of the population.
They can eat whatever they want and be metabolically healthy. They eat a lot, they don’t do squats all the time, but they just don’t gain weight.
In the study, the team looked at data from the Estonian Biobank, which includes 47,102 people aged 20 to 44 years old.
The team compared the DNA samples and clinical data of healthy thin individuals with normal-weight individuals and discovered genetic variants unique to thin individuals in the ALK gene.
Scientists have known that the ALK gene frequently mutates in various types of cancer, and it gained a reputation as an oncogene, a gene that drives the development of tumors.
The role of ALK outside of cancer has remained unclear. But this new finding suggested that the gene may play a role as a novel thinness gene involved in weight-gain resistance.
The researchers also found that flies and mice without ALK remained thin and were resistant to diet-induced obesity.
Furthermore, despite having the same diet and activity levels as normal mice, mice with deleted ALK have lower body weight and body fat.
The team’s mouse studies also suggested that ALK, which is highly expressed in the brain, plays a part thereby instructing the fat tissues to burn more fat from food.
The researchers say that therapeutics targeting the gene might help scientists fight obesity in the future.
ALK inhibitors are used in cancer treatments already. Further research will be required to see if these inhibitors are effective for this purpose.
The team also plans to further study how neurons that express ALK regulate the brain at a molecular level to balance metabolism and promote thinness.
The lead author of the study is Josef Penninger, the director of the Life Sciences Institute and professor of the department of medical genetics.
The study is published in Cell.
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