A Few Simple Vitamins Can Repair Genetic Mutation

Illustration for article titled A Few Simple Vitamins Can Repair Genetic Mutation

It turns out that vitamins are the best way to deal with mutants. A team of researchers at UC Berkeley, led by biologist Jasper Rine, discovered that most people have several small genetic mutations in their genomes that can be fixed with customized vitamin supplements. Vitamins act as patches for genetic mutations, providing enzymatic supplements to jump-start genes that aren't working quite right. Our bodies and brains could be functioning much better if we each knew what our mutations were and took personalized supplements to counteract them, say these scientists (here you can see a blood cell mutation caused by lack of vitamin B-12).


They're publishing the results of their work this week in PNAS. UC Berkeley has the scoop:

[Nicholas] Marini and Rine estimate that the average person has five rare mutant enzymes, and perhaps other not-so-rare variants, that could be improved with vitamin or mineral supplements.

"There are over 600 human enzymes that use vitamins or minerals as cofactors, and this study reports just what we found by studying one of them," Rine said. "What this means is that, even if the odds of an individual having a defect in one gene is low, with 600 genes, we are all likely to have some mutations that limit one or more of our enzymes." . . . All the more reason to poke around in one's genome, Rine said.

"If you don't give people a reason to become interested in their genome and to become comfortable with their personal genomic information, then the benefits of much of the biomedical research, which is indexed to particular genetic states, won't be embraced in a time frame that most people can benefit from," Rine said. "So, my motivation is partly scientific, partly an education project and, in some ways, a partly political project." . . .

This touches on what Rine considers one of the key biomedical questions today. "Now that we have the complete genome sequences of all the common model organisms, including humans, it's obvious that the defining challenge of biology in the 21st century is not what the genes are, but what the variation in the genes does," he said.

What's really exciting about this idea is really that we'll get tailor-made vitamins, nor even that we'll be sequencing our genomes all the time. Actually, what completely has me floored is the idea that all we may need to feel better are good vitamin supplements. You hear a lot about stem cells, gene therapy, and other fancy cures, but rarely does anyone say: You know, you might be less depressed and heal faster if you just took these simple vitamins.

Personal Genome Sequencing May Lead to Personalized Vitamin Supplements [UC Berkeley]


Annalee Newitz

@tyr540: It's changing their functionality — hence my use of the term "genomics," which refers to genetic function.