Obesity has become a growing problem all over the world. Scientists are trying to better understand how it happens, what causes it and the underlying reasons that may lead people down the said path. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have identified a gene that can be a possible cause of obesity.
The researchers have discovered a gene that encodes a protein called 14-3-3zeta, which is found in every cell of the body. When the researchers deactivated the said gene in mice at the lab, it resulted in a 50 percent reduction of “white fat”, the type of unhealthy fat usually associated with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The fat reduction still took place even when the mice were consuming the same amount of food. In addition, mice that were bred to express higher levels of the 14-3-3zeta protein also came out bigger and rounder, with an average of 22 percent more white fat when given a high calorie diet.
Scientists have already found over 100 areas in the human genome that can be associated with obesity via different means, such as regulating the body’s perception of hunger and fat distribution. But the studies have not identified the gene that encodes the 14-3-3zeta protein, which regulates the production and growth of fat cells.
According to Gareth Lim, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC’s Life Sciences Institute, “People gain fat in two ways — through the multiplication of their fat cells, and through the expansion of individual fat cells. This protein affects both the number of cells and how big they are, by playing a role in the growth cycle of these cells.”
Lim and James Johnson, a professor of cellular and physiological sciences at UBC, began looking into this protein 4 years ago as they noticed that it often is present in the unhealthy fat tissue in obese people.
“Until now, we didn’t know how this gene affected obesity,” Johnson added. “This study shows how fundamental research can address major health problems and open up new avenues for drug discovery.”
Source: University of British Columbia. (2015, August 10). Obesity gene? Gene discovered that could be an important cause of obesity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150810110749.htm