Magazine article Science News

Viruses May Leave a Weighty Legacy

Magazine article Science News

Viruses May Leave a Weighty Legacy

Article excerpt

It all started 7 years ago with a chance remark by a Bombay veterinarian.

Discussing some diseased chickens with nutritionist Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, the vet mentioned a puzzling observation. Within a few days of contracting what would prove a lethal virus, his birds began to gain weight. Over a mere 3 weeks, the chickens gained 60 to 75 percent more fat than did chickens that were not infected.

"I became curious," recalls Dhurandhar, now at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison. Dhurandhar started probing whether this fattening infection has a human corollary. This week, he reported startling data suggesting that viral infections may indeed play a role in some human obesity.

The Bombay chickens had been infected with SMAM-1, an avian adenovirus. This virus has not appeared in the United States, so when Dhurandhar arrived in Wisconsin, he began working with AD-36, a related adenovirus.

Last October, at a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, he and his Wisconsin colleague Richard L. Atkinson reported finding not only that AD-36 provokes rapid obesity in chickens but that, like SMAM-1, it leaves infected birds with "paradoxically low serum cholesterol and triglycerides." Ordinarily, fat birds, like fat people, develop elevated concentrations of cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood; both are potent risk factors for heart disease.

Because AD-36 can also infect people, inducing coldlike respiratory symptoms and diarrhea, the Wisconsin researchers decided to screen men and women for antibodies to the virus. …

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