Adipose gene that makes people thin or obese found

6 September, 2007:

In a path-breaking development, researchers have claimed that they have identified a gene that either keeps people thin or makes them obese.

The gene, according to them, is present in all creatures, and could eventually be manipulated in humans to help them shed weight.

About 50 years ago, in a forest in Nigeria, a graduate student named Winifred Doane came across a strain of plump flies. She discovered that the flies had a mutated form of a gene that she called adipose.

Doane speculated that the gene helped the insects store fat to sustain them during times of famine. But it was not known how the gene worked.

Now, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, the United States, have identified the adipose gene in a range of creatures – from fruit flies to tiny worms called c. elegans – and discovered that they can make their test subjects retain fat cells by manipulating the gene.

The study has been published in the September 2007 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.

Jonathan Graff, Professor of Biology, who led the research team that identified how the anti-obesity gene works, said the team also found the gene in mice. The discovery in mammals explains why humans can become obese and why it is difficult for some people to lose weight, according to Prof Graff.

In some cases, it appears that there is more than one gene contributing to the retention of fat cells in humans. Prof Graff explains: “So you have an adipose mutation that is turned down a little bit and maybe you gain a pound a year, but over 30 years that is 30 pounds. And, you have its partner, and it has a mutation, you would gain one pound a year or 30 pounds over 30 years. If you have both of those at a slightly reduced function, now you could be gaining 10, 20, 30 pounds in a year.”

A mutated adipose gene also produces adult onset diabetes because fat cells communicate to the rest of the body to regulate its metabolism. In diabetes, the body is unable to use glucose properly, leading to serious complications, including heart disease, blindness and kidney failure.

Now that researchers have produced skinny flies and mice by altering the adipose gene, Prof Graff says that scientists could develop the technique to help people with obesity and diabetes shed fat cells, therapies that he says are still years away.





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