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posted by martyb on Friday December 19 2014, @10:27AM   Printer-friendly
from the now-the-volunteers-run-in-circles dept.

The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. Scientists have known that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise but they hadn’t understood how those genes knew how to respond to exercise. Now the New York Times reports that scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have completed a study where they recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, brought them to the lab for a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy, and then asked them to exercise half of their lower bodies for three months. The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months. Then the scientists repeated the muscle biopsies and other tests with each volunteer. Not surprisingly, the volunteers’ exercised leg was now more powerful than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements. But there were also changes within the exercised muscle cells’ DNA. Using technology that analyses 480,000 positions throughout the genome, they could see that new methylation patterns had taken place in 7,000 genes (an individual has 20–25,000 genes).

In a process known as DNA methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body. In the exercised portions of the bodies, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins by genes. And gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied. Most of the genes in question are known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become. Many mysteries still remain but the message of the study is unambiguous. “Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money,” says Sara Lindholm, “we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life.”

 
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  • (Score: 1) by quixote on Friday December 19 2014, @03:21PM

    by quixote (4355) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 19 2014, @03:21PM (#127500)

    Other work has shown methylation changes in muscle cells after exercise. This particular one was actually about changes in adipose cells. There's been previous work showing changes in leukocytes, which are part of your immune system.

    Bottom line: exercise is going to turn out to affect methylation patterns of every cell in your body.

    And, yeah, they may eventually come up with a pill that can do the same thing without side effects. But if you used a transportation analogy to show how far away we (biologists) are from getting there, then it's like traveling from Boston to the Oort Cloud. We have some of the technology right now to go part of the way. A small part. The rest is going to require basic knowledge we don't even have yet, to say nothing of the tech, to get there in a reasonable period of time. But the concept doesn't violate known principles of molecular biology.

  • (Score: 1) by monster on Monday December 22 2014, @06:05PM

    by monster (1260) on Monday December 22 2014, @06:05PM (#128405) Journal

    An interesting byproduct of these studies is that they show that reality usually is less absolutist than initially thought. Two centuries ago there were heated arguments between the "Need brings function" (Lamarckism) and "Function outpopulates less evolved" (Darwinism) camps. Now it looks like even the wrong one (Lamarckism) had a bit of truth in it, in the sense that the lifestyle an organism has affects its genes and those changes can (potentially) be passed over, while the "genetic inheritance at birth is everything" mantra got toned down a little bit from its "genetic determinism" origin.