Collections of Genes and How They Allow an Organism to Adapt to Different Diets

Thursday, February 13, 2014. Author Dr Dan Reardon

Could your genes help guide the foods you should eat? 

This is a really interesting piece of research published this month in Cell Metabolism. Sean Curran and Shanshan Pang identify a collection of genes that allow an organism to adapt to different diets and show that, without them, even minor tweaks to diet can cause premature ageing and death.

Finding a genetic basis for an organism’s dietary needs suggests that different individuals may be genetically predisposed to thrive on different diets – and that now, in the age of commercial gene sequencing, people might be able to identify which diet would work best for them.

‘These studies have revealed that single-gene mutations can alter the ability of an organism to utilize a specific diet. In humans, small differences in a person’s genetic makeup that change how well these genes function could explain why certain diets work for some but not others,’ said Curran, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor with joint appointments in the USC Davis School of Gerontology, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

In this study, Curran and Pang identified a gene called alh-6, which delayed the effects of ageing depending on what type of diet the study subject (a worm) was fed by protecting it against diet-induced mitochondrial defects.

‘This gene is remarkably well-conserved from single-celled yeast all the way up to mammals, which suggests that what we have learned in the worm could translate to a better understanding of the factors that alter diet success in humans,’ Curran said.

This is certainly significant progress in the quest to be able to prescribe specific diets based on your genes.

Best wishes


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