Thursday, October 11, 2007

The skinny on the skinny gene

Ever had one of those friends who rarely hit the gym, eat every little thing in sight and still manage not to gain any weight? No, I'm not talking about folks with secret eating disorders. I'm referring to one of those fortunate people who, despite a more than healthy appetite, never seem to pile on the pounds. Well, apparently it truly is a genetic thing.

According to a report published last month in Cell Metabolism, a science journal, scientists have officially discovered a "skinny gene." The discovery of this lucky batch of DNA, they say, could help fight human obesity and diabetes.

"This gene is in every organism from worms to humans," says the study’s senior author, Dr. Jonathan Graff, an associate professor of developmental biology and internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "We all have it. It's very striking."

Graff and his colleagues had been hunting for a gene that might naturally keep people thin. Eventually, they turned up a promising candidate in a gene that controls fat formation: adipose.

The researchers ran tests on fruit flies, worms and mice and found that the gene meant the difference between fat and skinny. For example, they could make worms fat by deleting the adipose gene, while a single cell in a test tube would transform into fat cells when adipose was deleted. In addition, mice engineered to have efficient versions of the gene were much sleeker than normal counterparts - with only about one-third the body fat.

Obesity experts are thrilled with the results and say it could help lead to a treatment that mimics the gene's weight regulation abilities. Still, they cautioned that such a miracle pill is a long ways-away.

I tend to think it's a little too good to be true. Either way, until scientists prove this gene really does keep people skinny - and that it can successfully be turned into a an obesity cure - I'm inclined to hang onto my gym membership and keep watching my dietary intake.

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