Science and Medicine

Obesity Rate Will Reach at Least 42 Percent



Researchers at Harvard University say America's obesity epidemic won't plateau until at least 42 percent of adults are obese, an estimate derived by applying mathematical modeling to 40 years of Framingham Heart Study data.

Researchers at Harvard University say America’s obesity epidemic won’t plateau until at least 42 percent of adults are obese, an estimate derived by applying mathematical modeling to 40 years of Framingham Heart Study data.

Their work, published this week in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, runs counter to recent assertions by some experts that the obesity rate, which has been at 34 percent for the past five years, may have peaked. An additional 34 percent of American adults are overweight but not obese, according to the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Harvard scientists say that their modeling shows that the proliferation of obesity among American adults in recent decades owes in large part to its accelerating spread via social networks.

“Our analysis suggests that while people have gotten better at gaining weight since 1971, they haven’t gotten any better at losing weight,” said lead author Alison L. Hill, a graduate student in Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Biophysics Program, and at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. “Specifically, the rate of weight gain due to social transmission has grown quite rapidly.”

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How Ancient Plants and Soil Fungi Turned Earth Green



Colonized plant. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Sheffield)

New research by scientists at the University of Sheffield has shed light on how Earth’s first plants began to colonize the land more than 470 million years ago by forming a partnership with soil fungi.

The research, published in Nature Communications, has provided essential missing evidence showing that an ancient plant group worked together with soil-dwelling fungi to ‘green’ Earth in the early Palaeozoic era, nearly half a billion years ago.

The research, which also involved experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Imperial College London and the University of Sydney, has provided new insights into our understanding of the evolving dynamic behavior of Earth’s land plants and fungi.

Scientists have long-suspected that soil fungi formed mutually beneficial relationships with early land plants to play an essential role in assisting their initial colonization of terrestrial environments. However, until now there has been a lack of evidence demonstrating if and how the earliest ancient land plants, from the early Palaeozoic era (over 470 million years ago), might have cooperated with fungi for mutual benefit.

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Scientists Describe New Approach for Identifying Genes for Common Diseases



“Mathematics, statistics, and fancy computers alone won’t do it,” Schork said. “A much more integrative approach has to occur in order to make sense of DNA sequence data.”

A group of researchers at The Scripps Research Institute and the Scripps Translational Science Institute has published a paper that reviews new strategies for identifying collections of rare genetic variations that reveal whether people are predisposed to developing common conditions like diabetes and cancer.

In our modern genetic age, the entire DNA sequences, or “genomes,” of humans and thousands of other animals, plants, and microbial life forms have been completely decoded and are publicly available to scientists worldwide. One of the hopes now that this data is available is that scientists will be able to find genetic markers of diseases—particular bits of DNA that would identify someone as being at risk for developing a particular disease.

Knowing that a person has such a genetic predisposition could be a powerful tool for preventative medicine because, depending on the disease in question, there may be specific drugs or behavioral modifications like diet or exercise that doctors could prescribe to their patients early on to prevent or significantly lessen the impact of those diseases later in life.

Finding these genetic markers has proven to be difficult, however, and despite the fact that the human genome has been available to researchers for years, scientists have only discovered the underlying genetic determinants for about 5 to 10 percent of the heritable component of most common human diseases.

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