The tiny genetic tweak that gives mice super strength

Illustration for article titled The tiny genetic tweak that gives mice super strength

An inhibitor in your body might be sapping your strength, taking away your endurance, making you feel cold, and giving you diabetes. When scientists eliminated it, they unlocked the key to super strength in both mice and worms. Find out what's in your body that's making you weak.


Your worst enemy could be floating around your own body. It's keeping you from developing your muscles and it's making you sick, and its name is the NCoR1 corepressor. Scientists have been studying this little demon, known as an 'inhibitor,' and are scratching their heads over why we have it in the first place.

DNA isn't the be-all and end-all of what makes you a person. The information in DNA has to be translated into actual flesh, and different genes have to be expressed in different ways. Part of this process involves inhibitors, which do pretty much what their name suggests. They prevent certain parts of DNA from being made flesh. The degree to which they inhibit this expression varies, but taking out an inhibitor can have incredible effects. Recently, scientists genetically manipulated some mice into suppressing NCoR1, and spawned a generation of rodent Samsons. The muscle fibers of the mice were denser, the muscles were larger, and the muscle cells contained a larger amount of mitochondria, the little structures that provide energy for cell function. These muscles weren't just decorative. The mice were able to run twice as long as regular mice, run faster, and endure cold better.


That's not all. A different study showed that suppression of NCoR1 in fat tissues, instead of muscle tissues, did cause mice to become obese. Unlike mice that became obese from other means, though, these mice didn't suffer the diseases that other obese mice did. Instead they were normal mice with more fat. In fact, scientists have yet to see a single bad effect of shutting down NCoR1 in fat or muscle tissue. It's possible that NCoR1 was in muscle tissue in order to reduce frivolous energy consumption and prevent starvation, but there's no evidence suppressing it does any harm.

This alone wouldn't be cause for much fuss. A human isn't a mouse, and though mice can provide guides for exploration, they can't be thought of as an absolute indication. However, when scientists doing this study suppressed NCoR1 in nematode worms, they found similar effects. This indicates that NCoR1 might perform the same function across species. Doctors are interested in suppressing the inhibitor as a way of preventing muscle loss due to aging or healing traumatic injuries to muscles. It could be the beginning of human superstrength.

Can we afford not to take out this little inhibitor? I don't think so.

Via Slate and Cell.


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I think this goes to show how almost every aspect of human metabolism evolved to prevent starvation, and for all people's moralizing nonsense about "not eating the whole bag of chips" and "get out and exercise" (both of which have proven not to be the answer to a widespread public health crisis), we're really going to have to genetically un-engineer evolutionary overcorrections to starvation conditions from 80,000 years ago.