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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

The Soapbox: Obesity study in the UK, women’s tennis in Saudi Arabia, peace initiative between Switzerland and Russia

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN covering major news developments abroad. Global consciousness for a global university.
Max Van Hosen
The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

In the United Kingdom, study identifies genes that may contribute to obesity

A study led by the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council identified genetic variants in two specific genes that may severely impact obesity risk factors. The genetic variants, located within the BSN and APBA1 proteins, are some of the earliest recognized genetic factors linked to obesity where the risk is not noticed until adulthood.

The researchers, from the MRC’s Epidemiology and Metabolic Disease Units based at the University of Cambridge, conducted their study by performing exome sequencing — a type of genetic sequencing used to understand the cause of symptoms or diseases — on body mass index samples of over 500,000 individuals. The study found a possible new “biological mechanism” that is different from previously researched genetic variants that interrupt the brain’s appetite control system, which neither gene influences.

The identified variants in the BSN gene, also called Bassoon, are rare, impacting only one in 6,500 adults. These variants can elevate the risk of obesity by up to six times in adults, and they may also accelerate the development of Type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The impact of variants in the APBA1 gene on risk factors is considered “only nominally significant.”

Researchers have hypothesized that the two genes influence obesity by playing a role in transmitting signals within the brain. They also contribute to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, so they may play a role in cell damage as the brain ages and disrupt connections between cells that control appetite.

“We have identified two genes with variants that have the most profound impact on obesity risk at a population level we’ve ever seen, but perhaps more importantly, that the variation in Bassoon is linked to adult-onset and not childhood obesity,” MRC professor Giles Yeo, study author based at the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, said. “Thus these findings give us a new appreciation of the relationship between genetics, neurodevelopment and obesity.”

In Saudi Arabia, record level prize money allocated toward WTA finals

On Thursday, the Women’s Tennis Association announced that the WTA Finals will take place in Riyadh for the next three years. The prize money for winners also increased from $9 million to a record-high $15.25 million, with additional increases planned for 2025 and 2026.

The announcement follows months of speculation and has drawn criticism from media, tennis fans and professional players due to allegations of “sportswashing” human rights violations and restrictions on women’s rights. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, both members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, published an op-ed in January, stating that the partnership would be “entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis and the WTA itself.” 

WTA chief executive Steve Simon told The Athletic that tour officials have been in contact with Evert and Navratilova to understand their concerns. Simon said the association is “sensitive” to concerns about LGBTQ+ and women’s rights in the country but has spoken to other athletes who have participated in athletic competitions in Saudi Arabia, all who say “they’ve only had positive experiences.” 

The WTA’s announcement comes in conjunction with the men’s Association of Tennis Professionals tour August 2023 decision to host their finals in Jeddah. 

“To have a women’s tournament of this magnitude and profile is a defining moment for tennis in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud told Reuters. “The WTA Finals has the power to inspire far beyond the sport, especially for our young girls and women.” 

In Russia, government diplomats criticize Swiss peace initiative 

Top Russian diplomats are issuing warnings that Switzerland’s announcement to host a peace conference amid the Russia-Ukraine war would be a “useless waste of time” without considering Moscow’s interests. The conference, proposed in January, is expected to take place this summer.

At a January media conference, Swiss President Viola Amherd voiced her support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s peace plan and advocated for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Zelenskyy announced his “10-point peace plan” at a November 2022 summit of the Group of 20. The plan calls for the withdrawal of all Russian troops, restoration of nuclear safety, food and energy security and mandates Russia to reaffirm Ukraine’s sovereignty according to the U.N. charter.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argues that Ukraine and its Western allies are orchestrating a “massive diplomatic blitz” to sway countries of the Global South into joining the Swiss peace talks. Proponents of the initiative claim that only “certain aspects” of Zelenskyy’s plan, such as ensuring global food security, will be addressed. Lavrov argues that these specifics are designed to “attract more hesitant countries” as a way to garner a large number of participants and thus portray overwhelming global support for Ukraine. 

Lavrov reaffirmed Russian leadership’s long-standing dismissal of Ukraine’s peace formula, saying if any parties are “smart enough to abandon the deadlocked path of Zelenskyy’s formula, let them say it.” He also reiterated the necessity for negotiations to acknowledge Moscow’s security interests and the “new realities” of territorial gain.

So far, the planned negotiation meeting has drawn the interest of nations previously uninvolved in the conflict, such as China, whose leaders are “examining the possibility of taking part.”  According to China’s ambassador to Switzerland, Wang Shihting, the nation has already put forth a “strategy for a political end” to the war.

Contact Maisie Zipfel at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Maisie Zipfel
Maisie Zipfel, Deputy News Editor
Maisie Zipfel is a first-year double majoring in Journalism and Politics, and double minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Spanish. She is a Yerba Mate enthusiast, a Taylor Swift fanatic and an anti-Greek Life turned sorority girl (Deeph or Die). When she’s not writing in the WSN basement you can find her isolated in Palladium for NYU’s Competitive Dance Team practice, obsessing over her Four-Year Plan or trying to weave in time to take a nap. You can reach her on instagram @maisiezipfel, on LinkedIn (her favorite social media platform) @MaeZipfel or preferably on Venmo @mkzipfel.

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