If we were asked to name any species in the animal kingdom known for its athleticism and fine physique worms are, it’s fair to say, hardly the first creatures that come to mind.
A team of Danish researchers worked alongside Monash University, studying roundworms, which share 80% of their genes with humans, as well as half of all the genes, which are involved in human diseases.
In particular the team were looking at a gene in worms that could help break the cycle of overeating and under-exercising that can lead to obesity.
The gene, called ETS-5, controls signals from the brain to the intestine and triggers a feeling of fullness once enough fat has been stored in the worm’s gut.
It also sends a message to the brain to stop moving after feeding, effectively putting the roundworm to sleep.
Associate Professor Roger Pocock who published the findings, explained why this happens: “When animals are malnourished they seek out food by roaming their environment. When they’re well fed they have no need to roam, and when they’re fully sated they enter a sleep-like state.”
This gene is not only present in worms, but is also in humans, meaning that the team believes there is the potential to develop a drug that targets this gene.
The drug would then reduce human appetite and increase the desire to exercise more.
Pocock said: “Now that we’ve learned this gene family controls food intake through a feedback system to the brain, it represents a credible drug target for the treatment of obesity.”
According to the latest NHS figures, approximately 58% of women and 65% of men in the UK were overweight or obese in 2014, and this number is growing.