Addicted to the sun? It’s in your genes

10th September 2020 – by Paz García

Sun-seeking behaviour is linked to genes involved in addiction, behavioural and personality traits and brain function, according to a study of more than 260,000 people led by TwinsUK researchers.

This means that people’s behaviour towards seeking sun is affected by a genetic predisposition, and this needs to be taken into account when designing skin cancer awareness campaigns.

The researchers studied detailed health information of 2,500 twins from TwinsUK, including their sun-seeking behaviour and genetics. Identical twins in a pair were more likely to have a similar sun-seeking behaviour than non-identical twins, indicating that genetics play a key role.

The team then identified five key genes involved in sun-seeking behaviour from a further analysis of 260,000 participants from other cohorts. Some of these genes have been linked to behavioural traits associated with risk-taking and addiction, including smoking, cannabis and alcohol consumption and number of sexual partners.

First author Marianna Sanna said:

“When we look at the genes involved in sun-seeking behaviour, we see a clear link with genes previously associated with addiction and various risky behaviours. It would be interesting to investigate the connections between sun-seeking and other addictions and the genetic regulation and biology behind them.”

Senior author Dr Mario Falchi said:

“Our results suggest that tackling excessive sun exposure or use of tanning beds might be more challenging than expected, as it is influenced by genetic factors. It is important for the public to be aware of this predisposition, as it could make people more mindful of their behaviour and the potential harms of excessive sun exposure.”

Dr Veronique Bataille, Consultant Dermatologist involved in the research said:

“It is clear that we see individuals who have unhealthy sun behaviour and are fully aware of it. They will continue to expose themselves excessively even if they have clear skin cancer risk factors. Our research shows that genes regulating addiction and other risky behaviour are important and may explain some of the reticence in changing behaviours in the sun.”

Sanna, M et al. Looking for sunshine: genetic predisposition to sun-seeking in 265,000 individuals of European ancestry. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2020.

Gut bacteria need each other – and that affects our metabolism

3rd October 2019 – by Paz Garcia

Pile of lego bricks
Gut bacteria work together like Lego

Teamwork is key for the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut and this has a big impact on our metabolism, according to new research led by King’s College London, published today in Nature Communications.

The human gut is home to bacteria that help us digest our food, produce vitamins and perform many other tasks that influence our health.

Gut bacteria work together in groups to carry out different functions. The researchers, led by the Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology, found that this teamwork is much more important and more closely linked with our metabolism than individual species of bacteria.

The researchers studied the gut bacteria, blood and stool of over a thousand twins who take part in TwinsUK. This allowed the team to run the first large study on the link between gut bacterial species, their functions and the metabolism in the gut and blood of the participants.

The team found that while unrelated people share only 43% of gut bacteria species, they still share 82% of functions carried out by groups of gut bacteria. This is because different bacterial species can contribute to the same function and so different groups can work together to can carry out similar activities.

This research therefore suggests that health treatments designed to target gut bacteria – and our metabolism – should focus on groups of gut bacteria that carry out a particular function, rather than individual bacterial species.

Senior author Dr Mario Falchi explained:

“We can think of our gut bacteria like Lego bricks – the colour of the bricks doesn’t matter as much compared with how they fit together to make something. With gut bacteria, the individual species don’t matter as much as the group working together to carry out a function.”

“This is the first large study to explore the metabolic potential of the entire gut bacteria ecosystem. Our findings underline the importance of studying groups of bacteria and their functions overall, rather than focusing on specific species. These results add to the growing body of evidence that gut bacteria are intrinsically linked with human health.”

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Visconti A, Le Roy CI, Rosa F, Rossi N, Martin TC, Mohney RP, Li W, de Rinaldis E, Bell JT, Venter JC, Nelson KE, Spector TD and Falchi M. Interplay between the human gut microbiome and host metabolism. Nature Communications (2019).

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