New research leads professor to believe physical inactivity is genetic

Professor Frank Booth bred 160 rats in a study about physical inactivity that involved the offspring running on voluntary running wheels.

Physical activity is essential for a healthy lifestyle, and if Americans do not exercise, serious life-threatening diseases can be a result. Until recently, researchers believed laziness was a choice and not genetic, but Dr. Frank Booth of MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine conducted research that says otherwise.

In the 1990s, Booth was doing research for NASA when one of his students questioned his reasoning for his studies.

“He made a comment to me one day and said, ‘why are you studying eight astronauts when there are millions of people who are experiencing on Earth some of the effects of space flight ?’” Booth said. “So, knowing he was right, I gave up my NASA research and started to study when the body is not active.”

The study began in 2009, according to the MU News Bureau, and it consisted of 80 male rats bred with 80 female rats. They were then placed in voluntary running wheels, and Booth tracked which rats ran the most and the least. The 13 male rats who ran the most were bred with the 13 female rats who ran the least. Booth then studied the productivity of the offspring.

“The one who ran the lowest [amount] would be the mom for the next breed,” Booth said. “It almost got to the point where they were not running at all. We were the first ones to show that there must be genes somewhere in the body that control physical inactivity.”

Booth said that the overall effects of chronic diseases due to physical inactivity have caused health care expenditures to go through the roof, according to government data.

“They did a study of the literature and came out with the fact that the amount of money we spend on healthcare in this country in a year is $3.5 trillion,” Booth said. “Their paper says that 11.1% of that 3.5 trillion is due to physical inactivity in humans. That’s $388 billion a year.”

Booth said he found many interesting things throughout his research.

“[We went and found] a gene that if we went into the brain of the animal and put in that gene so it made more of that protein, the animals ran more,” Booth said.

The protein was called the protein kinase inhibitor alpha, and was significantly less present in the “lazy” rats, according to the MU News Bureau.

Numerous hours were put into this study by both Booth and student researchers. It’s possible the results would not have been as successful as they were had Booth and the student researchers not put in the time for the research.

“I am a workaholic, so I can be up here for 80 hours a week at times,” Booth said. “There are certain weeks where I spend more time than others. The way I run my lab is I do the maintenance of the animals and the students do other things. [I spend] maybe 10 to 20 hours a week just with the animals and maybe even more time with the students. I also write grants and papers, so it’s easily 40 hours or more a week.”

From student perspectives, there are people who believe that laziness is a choice, while some believe it is genetic.

“For the most part, laziness is definitely a choice,” freshman health sciences major Hannah Wankel said. “Someone may be more prone to being lazy if they are raised in an environment that fosters laziness, but even in that case, everybody is capable of making their own choices, regardless of what those around them are doing.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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