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Is there such a thing as a couch potato gene?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers identify 'lazy' genes.

Have you ever wondered why some people are lazy? Being a couch potato might be in the genes researchers say. In mouse studies, University of Missouri investigators found genes could affect exercise motivation.

Lazy mice have different RNA than active rodents

Estimates show the majority of Americans get less than 30 minutes of exercise a day, despite federal guidelines recommending that 30 minutes is the bare minimum of activity needed to maintain optimal health.

Researchers for the study not some people are highly motivated to exercise, leading them to want to understand if the desire to remain active might be in the genes.

Frank Booth, a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and post-doctoral fellow Michael Roberts bred two different types of rats for their study - those that were lazy and another breed that displayed high motivation to exercise.

To find out if laziness might be in the genes, the researchers watched how much the animals ran on running wheels in a cage over a 6-day period.

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Then they bred 26 of the most active rats and 26 of the laziest rats with each other; continuing the process through 10 generations. The rodents that were super runners were 10 times more active than the 'lazy' group.

When the scientists compared body composition and mitochondria in muscle cells between 'lazy' and 'couch potato' rats they found differences in RNA, which suggests a predisposition to laziness is genetic.

The researchers uncovered 36 genes out of 17, 000 that could explain why some people just can’t find motivation to exercise. The finding, published in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology on April 3, 2013, suggest genes could also play a role in human laziness.

The researchers plan to examine each of the 36 genes to try to find out if ‘couch potato' genes are contributing to higher rates of obesity in children and adults.

Booth said the finding could be an ‘important step’ in uncovering another cause of obesity in humans. He points out childhood obesity rates have increased dramatically in the United States.

MU News Bureau
April 8, 2013

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