Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found the fat food gene responsible for why we love deep-fried, oily goodness: MC4R, which is linked to severe obesity and throws off our ability to control our hunger pangs.
Biohackers are rubbing their hands in glee with this news because it means the ultimate DIY weight-loss scheme can be hatched to engineer our fat cravings away.
Is this the end of humanity’s heart-stopping bacon binges and McDonalds-breakfast marathons? In theory, sure: All genetic engineering requires is an at-home gene editing kit and a gene to edit — and the endless time and patience to pull it off.
Depending on your schedule, you may already have everything you need: After all, CRISPR technology, which has turned the once-unattainable quest of editing an organism’s DNA into an after-school project, has already been adopted by the biohacking community as a biological tool to turn pink carnations blue and, uh, create Spidergoats.
As luck would have it, the “research tool company” Origene already sells a kit that “knocks out” — that is, inactivates — the gene MC4R in human cells. According to the study by the Cambridge researchers, published in the journal Nature Communications today, neutralizing the faulty version of this gene could prevent carriers from choosing fat-filled foods over sugar. The gene itself is thought to be a remnant of the early stages of our evolution, when stockpiling energy through fat was more efficient than doing so through less nutrition-dense foods. These days, when most of us have to contend with a surplus, not dearth, of calories, there’s little reason to conserve energy and every reason to cut that gene out.
Of course, there’s a big difference between genetically engineering a group of cells and having the effects of said engineering take place in living humans. That would require gene editing cells inside the body — and the kits sold by DIY gene research companies like Origene can’t do that — at least not yet. Even institution-based scientists are limited by their knowledge of the science and restrictions on doing experiments on humans.
Still, it’s good to know we’ve got a gene to target in our efforts to end obesity and the means — albeit theoretical — to get us there. While the world’s scientists sort out the future of our gene engineering tools, may we suggest looking to the past for diet inspiration and eating like a caveman?