The basic human body plan is fairly similar (most have eyes, arms, and legs) but how efficiently our bodies’ function is unique and depend heavily on our genes. Although our brains use a lot of the simple energy compounds (like glucose), our skeletal muscles use 70% of our body’s total energy production such as fats, sugars, and amino acids. All of this energy demand from our skeletal muscles means our body’s metabolism is highly regulated by our muscles. If you want a higher metabolism then you should work out more to gain muscle; this process of muscle formation or repair is a complicated sequence of events requiring hundreds of genes all working together at the right time to promote muscle development. However, if one or many genes do not function properly this sequence of events have inefficiencies that diminish our muscle production capability; for some this means more time at the gym but for others it could lead to diseases like diabetes.
Our guest this evening is Vera Lattier (Chih-Ning Chang) who is a PhD candidate in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program focusing on one gene in particular that orchestrates the muscle formation process at various stages of life development. This PITX2 gene is implicated in regulating the activity of other genes as well as formation of the eyes, heart, limbs, and abdominal muscles during embryonic stages. During later stages of life the amount of skeletal muscle you have dictates your bodies metabolism, and if you are unable to build muscles you tend to have a lower metabolism that encourages excess food to be stored as fat. This is the first step towards obesity and is also a precursor to developing diabetes that affects nearly 26 million people in the United States. Although eating right and exercising can have a substantial impact to your health, if your genes are not functioning correctly poor health may ensue at no fault of the patients.
Vera’s research uses mice as models to better understand this complex interaction between our genes and our body’s metabolism. As part of a decade’s long research through Dr. Chrissa Kioussi’s research lab at Oregon State University they examined the role of this PITX2 gene in three main stages of muscle formation. By mutating the gene to affect it’s expression (effectively ‘turning off’ the gene) during early embryonic formation the mice bodies were unable to effectively create the physical structures for basic bodily functions and they were not viable embryos. When mutating the gene near the time of birth the mice were fully functional at the early stage of life and seemed normal. However, when they grew older they quickly became obese, in fact three times as heavy as the average mice, that lead to fatty liver disease, enlargement of the heart, obesity, and of course diabetes. Vera’s work continues to try and elucidate the mechanisms behind the connection of our genes and our body’s metabolism through structural muscle formation that could help us to identify these limitations earlier and help save lives.
There is so much more to discuss with Vera on tonight’s show. You’ll hear about her first experience with a microscope at a young age and how she dreamed of one day becoming an evil scientist (luckily her parents changed her mind). Be sure to tune in for what is sure to be an enlightening discussion on Sunday April 8th at 7PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or by listening live.