Discovery of gene may help fight fat Protein determines conversion of calories

March 03, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES -- Researchers at the University of California, Davis say they have discovered a gene that explains why some people can eat whatever they want and stay slim while others consume exactly the same food and get fat -- a finding that could have a major impact on the continuing battle against expanding waistlines.

The gene, the blueprint for a protein called UCP2, determines whether the body converts all those excess calories in marbled roast beef and Danish pastries into harmless surplus body heat or stores it as fat, like a squirrel preparing for winter, the team reports in today's edition of the journal Nature Genetics.

"This is a gene that determines whether a high-fat diet makes you fat or not," said Dr. Richard S. Surwit of Duke University Medical Center, a co-author. "We believe that it is at the heart of what happens in people who get fat."

The discovery is "a major breakthrough that is likely to have important implications for the treatment of human obesity," said a Nature Genetics editorial.

Researcher Craig Warden of the University of California, Davis, believes the newfound gene is an energy thief. It gives rise to UCP2, which steals some of the energy that cells generate. That means cells have to burn extra calories to make up for the loss. Researchers are expected to work with pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that can prod the gene into making more of the energy-stealing UCP2, so that cells would have to burn still more calories.

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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