KSU professors weigh in on metabolism-gene findings

Emily Mills

Scientists have discovered a mutation in a metabolism gene that could make it more likely people with the mutation will be severely obese.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered a mutation in the KSR2 gene, that controls a person’s appetite and the way a person’s body burns fat and glucose.

Kent State assistant biology professor Colleen Novak said the mutation affects how a cell processes materials from food.

“It impairs the cells’ ability to burn fat and glucose,” she said.

This inability to function can lead to people with the mutation having an unusually large appetite and gaining a lot of weight.

The mutation could be caused by either the way the brain controls the gene or the cell’s ability to function, Novak said.

The mutation can make people more likely to become severely obese, which means people have a body mass index of more than 35. Body mass index, or BMI, is a ratio of weight to height, and a normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the National Institutes of Health.

The study included 2,101 people who had been obese since they were younger than 10 and a control group of 1,536 people.

Researchers found 2.1 percent of people from the obese group had a mutation on their KSR2 gene, while only 1 percent in the control group had a mutation on the gene, according to the study.

Researchers also discovered the participants in the obese group had abnormally large appetites as children, low heart rates, insulin resistance and slow metabolisms.

Novak said this gene mutation is rare because it is unusual for one gene to have so much effect on a person’s weight.“Usually it’s the effect of many genes on top of the environment, so this one gene is rare,” she said.

While this gene mutation can make people predisposed to severe obesity, Novak said it shouldn’t be an excuse for people who are obese.

“Genetics isn’t necessarily destiny,” she said. “It may make it harder, but you can overcome it with exercise, physical activity and diet.”

The mutation on the KSR2 gene won’t lead to an answer for weight loss, said Natalie Caine-Bish, associate professor of health sciences.

“Knowing you have this gene doesn’t solve anything,” she said. “Having this mutation isn’t something we can reverse.”

Individuals with the mutation will have to work like any other person trying to lose weight, Caine-Bish said.

“When it comes to weight loss, it’s still going to come to energy expenditure, which means exercise, and burning calories, and a healthy diet,” she said.

Contact Emily Mills at [email protected].