Chasing the Genes That Shape Our Bodies
Genes play a profound role in shaping our bodies, as does the environment into which we are born. To date, more than 80 genetic variations have been linked to BMI and body fat distribution. Atul Chopra and colleagues at Baylor College of medicine are studying a defect in the FBN1 gene that can have a profound impact on body weight and fat storage.
They found that the defect interferes with production of a newly discovered hormone, asprosin. That hormone regulates how the liver produces and releases glucose into the body. The defect is extraordinarily rare. Chopra and his colleagues have identified only two patients with this defect. The New York Times tells the story of one of those patients, Abby Solomon:
Abby Solomon suffers from a one-in-a-billion genetic syndrome. After just about an hour without food, she begins to starve. She sleeps in snatches. In her dreams she gorges on French fries. But as soon as she wakes up and nibbles a few bites, she feels full, so she ends up consuming very few calories. At 5 feet 10 inches tall, she weighs 99 pounds.
Chopra and Solomon have a shared understanding of the importance of her rare condition. It offers an exceptional opportunity to learn. Chopra says:
Nothing comes close to starting with people who are naturally different. We have the opportunity to help a bigger swath of humanity when we learn from these outliers.
The only other person known to have this genetic defect, Lizzie Velasquez, suffered merciless bullying and ridicule from a very early age. Her condition shaped her appearance and made her an easy target. She responded to that hate with an inspiring TED talk about inner beauty. It’s a well-worn theme that never grows old.
People love the idea that you can be anything you want. But we do not choose our bodies and how they function. What we can do is learn from them. We can use them to make our lives and the lives of people around us better.
Both Lizzie Velasquez and Abby Solomon are doing just that.
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Month 00, 2016