How genes influence obesity, senility – and the effects of olive oil

A new study has found that virgin olive oil can actually influence certain genes involved in triggering inflammatory processes of the immune system.

A new study has found that virgin olive oil  can actually influence certain genes involved in triggering  inflammatory processes of the immune system. Photo / NZ Herald In 2000 President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair announced in a joint satellite broadcast from the White House and Downing Street that scientists had completed the first draft of the human genome. Ten years on and medical researchers are now enjoying a ‘genome bonanza’ that has begun to elucidate the complex role of genes in human health.

Three such studies are published today. One describes how a gene linked to obesity is also associated with mental deterioration, a second shows how another gene affects memory and thinking in old age and the third study identifies the part of the human genome affected by a healthy Mediterranean diet – or more specifically virgin olive oil.

When the draft genome was published, President Clinton ruffled a few atheistic feathers when he suggested that the milestone represents the translation of a mysterious code designed by a higher being.

“Today, we are learning the language in which God created life,” he said.  Whether God-given or not, it took another three years for scientists to finally complete the entire ‘book of life’, as the human genome came to be called.   And it was soon clear that as a powerful research tool it would unleash untold insights into the workings of the human body, as well as our relationships to the wider living world.

The genome contains the entire digital recipe for making a human being. It consists of three billion individual letters of the genetic alphabet, arranged in a sequence that is unique to each person, which includes approximately 23,000 human genes that determine the production of the proteins, cells and tissues of the body.

For decades, biological science argued abut “nature versus nurture”.   Is environment and upbringing the important influence that determines a person’s health and psychological makeup, or is it in the genes that they have inherited?

It turns out that both are important but more interestingly it is the influence of the environment on the genes that appears to play a decisive role in how people develop. The human genome has shown how a disparate variety of individual genes combine together, along with environmental influences, to affect a person’s physical and mental well-being.

Take the influence of diet on health. There is strong evidence to suggest that a Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke and even Alzheimer’s disease. This is the environment at work.

But a study by Francisco Perez-Jimenez from the University of Cordoba in Spain, published in the journal BMC Genomics, shows how virgin olive oil can actually influence certain genes involved in triggering inflammatory processes of the immune system.

Leave a Reply