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Researchers find a gene for obesity

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen set out on what seemed like a simple task: to find out if overeating is linked to any genetic difference. Four years and 1,200 pigs later (yeah, we'll get to that), they have an answer.

Monitoring human eating habits is highly difficult; over a period of years, no human would be willing to have every single item of food they eat be studied and recorded by scientists. So these researchers turned to the pig, which has a very similar gastrointestinal system as well as a similar genomic structure, to find out. Pigs, after all, don't much care whether you're looking at them and taking notes as they eat.

Over four years, 1,200 pigs were given nearly unlimited access to food to see how much they'd eat, how often, how long they'd spend at the feeder, and what kind of food they preferred, all while monitoring their weight. Each pig also had its specific genome sequenced--that means that each pig's DNA was mapped, creating a sort of personal snapshot of each pig. No two pig's sequences are completely the same, and the hope was that the differences could shine light on eating habits.

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