Meadville Tribune

Our Health

March 3, 2014

Trying to lose weight? Reach for the nearest calico cat

Interesting studies have discovered that cats may actually help us with weight loss.

Research presented at the Biophysical Society Meeting in mid-February found that cats — specifically calico cats — could provide the key to help people lose weight. It was explained that calico cats, which contain patches of various colors of fur (orange, black and white), have unique X chromosomes that cause that patchwork color mode.

Apparently, the cats “have an orange fur color gene on one of their X chromosomes and a black fur color gene on the other, so that random silencing of one of the X’s in each cell creates their distinctive patchwork coats,” explained Elizabeth Smith, one of the researchers from the University of California.

Considering that we have now mapped the entire DNA sequencing for humans, we may be able to figure out which specific genes on a chromosome can be silenced to help us lose weight. Body fat distribution has already been linked with the X chromosomes in the human body, therefore, it seems theoretically possible to identify and deactivate the fat-causing chromosome.

According to the research, the location of specific genes is currently underway and it could be possible to turn off or on specific chromosomes to achieve the desired effect. If that actually occurs, we could essentially turn off the “fat” genes and reducing obesity.

The research is still in its infancy, but considering the scope of such a concept, there could be more results in the near future.

So, how safe is it to modify our genetic makeup in this fashion?

Considering we’ve really only begun to understand the complexities of our DNA, we may not have enough information to assess such a concept right now. The Genetics and Public Policy Center has outlined the ethical nature of gene modifications. According to the center, we have successfully modified genes in laboratory animals and some of those modifications could be transferred to a human being. So far, none have been tried.

A trial run of replacing a defective embryonic stem cell with a normal one in mice was successful. Yet, doing so in a human being may lead to what scientists are calling unwanted mutations in the genes that could leave the person with severe development outcomes or dead. While this test was in reproductive genes, there could be similar consequences with messing with any of the genes in the human body — including deactivating fat genes to reduce obesity.

Furthermore, the center noted that such modifications bring up the concept that people will be “playing God” and whether this should be approached at all.

Until more research is conducted on gene modifications or activating/deactivating genes, we should simply attempt to adopt safer and healthier alternatives to combat obesity such as eating healthy and exercising daily.

Nina Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. She is a co-author of the book “Community and Public Health,” published by Bridgepoint Education Inc. You can email her at nina@w2w4life.com.

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