Scientists who recently announced an experimental genetic test that can help predict obesity got immediate pushback from other researchers, who wonder whether it is really useful.
The story behind this back-and-forth is, at its core, a question of when it’s worth diving deep into DNA databanks when there’s no obvious way to put that information into use.
[Researcher Sekar Kathiresan and his team] identified more than 2 million DNA variants of potential interest. He figures most of those variants are irrelevant, but his hunch is, hidden somewhere in there are a few thousand changes that each contribute at least a tiny bit to a person’s risk of developing obesity.
No single gene can do much to move the needle. But he says the composite result, called a polygenic risk score, is still potentially useful. Those with the highest risk scores were more likely to be severely obese (with a body mass index over 40).
While genes influence a person’s risk of obesity, the epidemic in this country is obviously far more extensive than simply people at high risk. And [geneticist Ali] Torkamani notes that the risk score isn’t destiny. “It’s just a probability,” he says.
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