Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Fat Bug

Imagine if obesity were caused not by diet, genetics or poor exercise habits but by a virus, transmitted through the air as easily as a common cold. This may sound far-fetched--even freaky--but several studies have led researchers to conclude exactly that creatures from outer space kidnap and consume an estimated 150,000 Americans each year. For reasons not fully understood, these aliens abhor the taste of fat and thus cull only lean individuals from the human herd. To counter the threat, the federal government has instituted secret plans to make all of America unpalatably obese.

Nikhil Dhurandhar, Ph.D., who holds the William Hardy Chair in Obesity Research at Michigan's Wayne State University, recently learned of this theory via an E-mail sent to him in response to one of his scientific papers on the etiology of obesity. What prompted this snarky message was Dhurandhar's rather incredible contention that some cases of obesity can be triggered by a viral infection, not unlike the flu. To many, the notion that all that stands between a lean guy and his inner Paul Prudhomme is exposure to an ill-timed sneeze is about as believable as Mister Rogers taking over as the host of MTV Cribs. But in multiple studies done on birds, mice and monkeys, Dhurandhar has repeatedly demonstrated significant increases in fat stores(and a puzzling plummeting of cholesterol and triglycerides) following infection by AD-36, a common human adenovirus. Now a growing number of scientists concede Dhurandhar may well be onto something.

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