EMBO IG – Principal Investigator Obesity Laboratory Gulbenkian Science Institute
The science of body shape
The human body has always been a focus of artistic expression. Along the centuries, art has been the vehicle that has documented how societies have sculpted and idealized the shape of human bodies, particularly that of females. The collection of body shape archetypes that art has created over the centuries is incredibly diverse, ranging from very obese, to extremely thin. Indeed, obesity has been among us for a long time, the oldest evidence being the Venus of Willendorf, an archaeological statuette found in Austria, dated 24.000-22.000 B.C.E. Back then, during times of starvation, obesity was regarded as a divine gift. However, it is not until now that obesity has been classified as a disease, and has attained epidemiological levels, catering to an enormous industry that pretends to curb it. Can we really significantly change body shape (ie, non-surgically)? Just like eye color or height, body weight is genetically encoded, and subject to biological control. Only two decades ago, with the discovery of the hormone Leptin, the first step was given towards a biological understanding of body weight and adiposity. I will elaborate on how our genes and hormones mediate a crosstalk between the brain and the adipose tissue, to control body shape and obesity.