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Your Roommate's Genes Can Influence Your Health: Study

27 January 2017, 7:00 pm EST By Arrianne Del Rosario Tech Times
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A study from the European Bioinformatics Institute explained how the genetic makeup of an individual’s social partner plays a pivotal role in their overall health.  ( Adam Berry | Getty Images )

Are you sharing a room with anyone - a spouse, a sibling, or a college friend? You ought to be careful with your choices.

Aside from invading your personal space, the latest study suggests that it's likely a roommate could influence your health in so many ways, too.

Roommate Genes Explained Using A Mouse Model

Using a mouse model, researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute illustrated how the genetic makeup of an individual's social partner plays a pivotal role in his or her overall health.

In the two strains of mice - gray and black - set up as "roommates," researchers looked into their social genetic effects by measuring associations between different traits - including wound healing, anxiety, immune function, and body weight - and noted a remarkably high contribution of the strain of the cage mates to variation in the said measures.

The entire study can be found in PLOS Genetics.

The Roommate Effect

In previous years, researchers have delved deeper into "the roommate effect" and outlined several aspects that can be affected by the person one is sharing his or her living space with. These include emotional behavior, drinking habits, inclination to playing video games, academic performance, and even weight gain.

Somehow debunking the well-known "Freshman 15" myth, which refers to the amount of total weight a student is expected to gain during his or her first year in college, a 2010 study from the University of Michigan found that college women with overweight roommates gain less weight as opposed to those with slimmer roommates - a half pound versus 2.5 pounds.

According to the study, roommates who are on the heavier side are more likely to follow a diet and fitness regimen, which inspire the other person to do the same, regardless if he or she needs to lose weight or not.

"It's not really the weight of your roommate that's important, but the behaviors your roommate engages in," explained Kandice Kapinos, an assistant research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "These behaviors are what may really be 'contagious.'"

What It Means For Human Health

"The takeaway message here is that we need to pay attention to the genetic makeup of social partners, since in some cases it affects health more than the individual's own genes," said Amelie Baud, the first author of the new study.

For experts, although Baud's research was done on mice, there is no doubt that the same principle can also be applied to humans.

"As a geneticist I want to provide doctors with information to understand the mechanisms and causal pathways behind a disease, so they have a better idea of how to intervene to help their patient heal. Our goal is to include the full genetic ecosystem to understand how we influence one another," Baud concluded.

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