Roundworms in Obesity Research

Obesity Research & Roundworms

Scientists have manipulated hundreds of genes to create roundworms that are sleek and trim – a feat that could someday lead to new obesity treatments for people.

Harvard biologist Gary Ruvkun used a promising new technique to identify about 400 genes in the roundworm’s genetic code related to fat production and storage.

His team then deactivated, or turned off, about 300 of the genes in experiments, and now “the worms are thin and happy,” Ruvkun said. When they knocked out the activity of the remaining 100 genes, worms grew fatter.

The Harvard scientists disabled genes so that the bioengineered roundworms would have much lower fat levels than normal.

Humans share about half of the roundworm’s 19,000 genes, including 200 of the fat-storage genes. Whether the same gene knockout technique will work in humans is unclear, but obesity drugs might be developed based on the basic understanding of the genes, Ruvkun said.

Other biologists cautioned that drug companies would need at least a decade to safely develop a genetic therapy for obesity.

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