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Genomics Forum · Events

Joint Genomics Forum/SCOFF seminar on obesity and genetics

Seminar   21.09.2011





Organised by

ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum and Scottish Colloquium on Food & Feeding (SCOFF, the Scottish wing of the British Sociological Association Food Study Group)


ESRC Genomics Forum boardroom, St John's Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ

Map and directions

Event details

Lunch: A sandwich lunch will be available before the seminar, from 1pm.

Registration: Registration is required for this event due to limited venue capacity. Please indicate whether you will attend lunch before the seminar (from 1pm), and any special dietary requirements. Email christine.knight@ed.ac.uk or telephone 0131 651 4743 (Dr Christine Knight, Policy Research Fellow, ESRC Genomics Forum).


Dr Karen Throsby, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick. "Fat gene mystery unraveled by scientists": Genes, environments and the war on obesity.

As rising obesity rates continue to be the focus of concern in medical, scientific, social and policy domains, the search for effective interventions against obesity (and for explanations of its intractability at the individual and population levels) continues apace. Central to these efforts is the conviction that genetics are key element in the development of obesity, usually in the form of an innate propensity towards obesity that is enabled by environmental factors such as the wide availability of cheap, low quality food, reduced levels of exercise etc. Drawing on the obesity science literature, media reports, policy papers and interview data, and following Anne Fausto-Sterling’s proposal that we are “always 100 percent nature and 100 percent nurture”, this paper argues that the continued efforts to identify “fat genes” and their associated pathways, as well as their relationships to environmental factors, problematically separates moral questions from physical ones. Instead, the paper argues that it is necessary to think about bodies in relation – a move which requires challenging the cultural norms and practices (and their associated moral freight) associated with bodies medically categorized as obese, rather than simply conceptualizing those bodies as a problem to be solved.

Karen Throsby is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick. She is the author of "When IVF Fails: Feminism, Infertility and the Negotiation of Normality" (Palgrave 2004), and co-author (with Flora Alexander) of "Gender and Interpersonal Violence: Language, Action and Representation" (Palgrave 2008). She is currently writing a book on people's experiences of obesity surgery, and is also working on a new project on English Channel swimmers.

Dr Nik Morton, Centre for Cardiovascular Science, University of Edinburgh. "I blame my genes Dr ... ": Hunting fatness genes to treat obesity? A scientist's perspective´╗┐.

Dr Nik Morton (BSc Biochemistry, University of Glasgow; PhD, University of Buckingham) is a Reader at the Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences at the Queens Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Little France. Dr Morton is interested in the genetic causes and fundamental biological links that underpin obesity and its associated chronic disease conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The main focus of his research has been on the role of natural stress hormones (glucocorticoids) in controlling how much fat we store and, crucially, where we store it. His research has shown that elevated local activation of glucocorticoids within adipose tissues leads to abnormal accumulation of central (apple-shaped) fat, which carries a higher risk of complicating diseases than fat stored elsewhere in the body. Dr Morton is also interested in how the cells that secrete the hormone insulin to control blood sugar (and hence diabetes) are regulated by the local production of glucocorticoids. Indeed, Dr Morton has shown the intimate link between the amount and distribution of our fat and how the body regulates blood sugar levels, and how this is determined by changes in local regeneration of stress hormones. More broadly Dr Morton has looked at the heritability of fatness, and indeed leanness, as a way to identify new potential therapeutic targets for obesity. He has done this using new technology for profiling the expression levels of our genes in the fat and other tissues. Dr Morton also has an interest in how obesity in pregnancy affects metabolic outcomes in the mother. Dr Morton has spoken on Radio Scotland and his work has been covered in the local and national press (see Why You’re an Apple or a Pear, Daily Mail, 9 March 2011), although he bemoans the loss of scientific message that seems to inevitably accompany media coverage of obesity! Dr Morton’s work has been funded by a series of personal fellowships from The Wellcome Trust and by Diabetes UK, The British Heart Foundation and Research Councils UK.

Further details