Professor Christian Wolfrum, ETH Zürich, will be one of the plenary speakers at the 13th European Nutrition Conference (FENS 2019) this coming October. Professor Wolfrum will be speaking on the final day of the conference, 18 October, on ‘Epigenetic reprogramming regulating adipose tissue plasticity and function.’ Ahead of the conference, the Society asked Professor Wolfrum about his research, thoughts on malnutrition and obesity interventions, and lecture topic.
1. With a background originally in chemistry, what first led you to focus your research on nutritional science?
I had already started my work in nutritional sciences during my chemistry education. I majored in biochemistry, and I worked mostly on the signalling properties of nutrient derived lipids such as polyunsaturated fatty acids and branched chain fatty acids. I have continued this over the years, combining nutrition research with molecular studies.
2. With such extensive research experience, how have you seen discourse around the aetiology and treatment of metabolic diseases and obesity change and develop over time?
I think the biggest change in recent years is the fact that obesity is slowly getting accepted as a disease. Furthermore, I have noticed that the aspect of prevention has gained more attention. I think especially in this area nutritional sciences could play a very important role.
3. Why do you think it is important to consider malnutrition in an obese world?
Malnutrition in its classic definition describes a lack of essential dietary components. I think this is not necessarily a contradiction, since the types of food that are consumed in an obese world might lack certain essential components. These (actually the lack of these) could actually also contribute to the increased prevalence of obesity.
4. How do you think epigenetic research can support the design of nutrition interventions?
I think that it is well accepted that nutrition strongly affects the epigenome, thereby changing metabolism. Whether the intergenerational effects are important will remain to be seen. However, it is very possible that without a transmission to a subsequent generation, epigenetic changes might influence the metabolism of an individual thereby promoting or repressing the progression of metabolic disorders
5. Finally, your research focuses on lipids. What do you think is the main misconception regarding lipids and metabolic disease?
I think most people consider lipids to be an energy dense calorie source which is not wrong. What most people forget is that there are thousands of lipid species, some of which are clearly signalling molecules with a strong impact on cellular function. We have to differentiate more about what lipid composition we ingest, and if we can modulate it to improve metabolism within an individual.