|Caenorhabditis elegans - a roundworm.|
Researchers say that the tiny worm, known as Caenorhabditis elegans, could hold to key to beating obesity. A genetic mutation that means it never gets fat takes us one step closer to a pill that lets us eat all of the ice cream, cookies, and cakes that we want, without gaining any weight. The research was published in Nature Communications.
The researchers found a new way to suppress the obesity that accompanies a high-sugar diet, pinning it down to a key gene that pharmaceutical companies have already developed drugs to target. The high-sugar diet that the bacteria ate was the equivalent of a human eating the Western diet, referring to the diet favored by the Western world, characterized by high-fat and high-sugar foods, like burgers, fries and soda.
Certain genetic mutants in the worm experiments, those with a hyperactive SKN-1 gene, could be fed incredibly high-sugar diets without gaining any weight, while regular C. elegans ballooned on the same diet. However, the work has been solely on the worm Caenorhabditis elegans and human cells in a petri dish, but the genetic pathway he studied is found in almost all animals from yeast to humans. The SKN-1 gene also exists in humans, where it is called Nrf2, suggesting that the findings might translate. Next, the researchers plans to test the findings in mice.
The Nrf2 protein, a 'transcription factor' that binds to a specific sequence of DNA to control the ability of cells to detox or repair damage when exposed to chemically reactive oxygen (a common threat to cells' well being), has been well studied in mammals.
Pharmaceutical companies have already worked to develop small-molecule drugs that target Nrf2, in hopes that it will produce more anti-oxidants and slow aging. Though the promise of a pill to help control your body's response to food is enticing, it is not without risk. Increased Nrf2 function has been linked to aggressive cancers.