Scientists have discovered a ‘thinness’ gene that may be the reason why some people can eat and not gain weight, according to new research.
A study published by University of British Columbia (UBC) scientist Dr. Josef Penninger and a team of researchers identified a gene called Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK) which they say is “involved in the resistance to weight gain.”
After comparing the genetics and clinical profile of 47,012 “healthy thin, and normal weight individuals aged 20-44,” the international team of researchers discovered there was a mutation in the ALK gene in the thin group.
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Only about one percent of the population has this mutated gene that helps them stay thin, according to the study.
“We all know these people, who can eat whatever they want, they don’t exercise, but they just don’t gain weight. They make up around one percent of the population,” Penninger was quoted by UBC News as saying.
“We wanted to understand why,” Penninger added. “Most researchers study obesity and the genetics of obesity. We just turned it around and studied thinness, thereby starting a new field of research.”
UBC News reported that the gene is “known to mutate frequently in several types of cancer and has been identified as a driver of tumor development.”
“Our work reveals that ALK acts in the brain, where it regulates metabolism by integrating and controlling energy expenditure,” lead author Michael Orthofer told UBC News.
Energy expenditure is measured by calculating how many calories an individual burns while performing activities such as breathing, circulating blood, digesting food, or exercising.
The research team ‘deleted’ the ALK gene in both flies and mice which resulted in the animals becoming resistant to ‘diet-induced’ obesity.
“Despite consuming the same diet and having the same activity level, mice without ALK weighed less and had less body fat,” according to UBC News.
Next, the team will try to determine how the gene “balances metabolism to promote thinness.” The researchers will also conduct further tests on “more diverse” humans in order to validate the results.
Penninger said it is a possibility that the researchers could “reduce the function” of the ALK gene to see if individuals stay skinny.