Tweaking a gene that influences whether your body accumulates or burns up fat may not be such a far-fetched dream for millions of overweight/obese people around the world. Scientists in the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, USA believe that may have found a way of doing just this. They say that turning up the volume on “the skinny gene” could eventually lead to treatment that prevents and treats obesity and diabetes.

You can read about this latest research in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Senior author of this latest study, Jonathan Graff, said “There’s a ‘skinny gene’ out there, and when it’s reduced in function, animals become fat. It works in fat cells and not by changing appetite, and could account for what I would call this epidemic of obesity and diabetes.”

This study was carried out over a five-year period. The goal was to isolate and stimulate the adipose gene in miniscule worms, fruit flies and mice. They found that the more the adipose gene was stimulated, the thinner their subjects became. When the opposite was done – when the gene was tweaked down – the subjects got fatter. Amazingly, the mice that stayed or became lean had ideal levels of blood glucose, while the ones that put on weight eventually developed diabetes type II.

Graff likened the gene tweaking to turning the volume knob up and down – turn it up and you become leaner, turn it down and the pounds start to pile on.

We have known about the existence of the adipose gene for over half a century, explained Graff. However, not much has been known about exactly what it does and how it does it. As we also carry the adipose gene, Graff believes the animal experiments should apply to humans.

The adipose gene was discovered by Winifred Doane over fifty years ago. He is now a Professor at the Emeritus Faculty, Arizona State University, USA.

Graff and team are keen to carry out further research to try to find a medicine that can turn the volume knob of this gene – helping people become lean, and achieve ideal blood sugar and insulin levels. He believes there will be such a drug within the next decade.

Obesity rates (adults) in 2005 (Source: OECD)

1 – United States: 30.6%
2 – Mexico: 24.2%
3 – United Kingdom: 23%
4 – Slovakia: 22.4%
5 – Greece: 21.9%
6 – Australia: 21.7%
7 – New Zealand: 20.9%
8 – Hungary: 18.8%
9 – Luxembourg: 18.4%
10 – Czech Republic: 14.8%
11 – Canada: 14.3%
12 – Spain: 13.1%
13 – Ireland: 13%
14 – Germany: 12.9%
15 – Finland: 12.8%
16 – Portugal: 12.8%
17 – Iceland: 12.4%
18 – Turkey: 12%
19 – Belgium: 11.7%
20 – Netherlands: 10%
21 – Sweden: 9.7%
22 – Denmark: 9.5%
23 – France: 9.4%
24 – Austria: 9.1%
25 – Italy: 8.5%
26 – Norway: 8.3%
27 – Switzerland: 7.7%
28 – Korea, South: 3.2%
29 – Japan: 3.2%

“Adipose Is a Conserved Dosage-Sensitive Antiobesity Gene”
Jae Myoung Suh, Daniel Zeve, Renee McKay, Jin Seo, Zack Salo, Robert Li, Michael Wang, and Jonathan M. Graff
Cell Metabolism, Vol 6, 195-207, 05 September 2007
Click here to view abstract online

Written by: Christian Nordqvist