Magazine article Science News

Gene Variations Police the Storage of Fat

Magazine article Science News

Gene Variations Police the Storage of Fat

Article excerpt

With high-calorie foods at every turn, obesity is rampant in the Western world. Some people, however, just don't seem to get fat even if they try to put on pounds.

Researchers may have found out why. They've uncovered genetic variations controlling a calorie-draining spigot in the body. The variations modulate production of a molecule called uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2), which converts calories into heat instead of fat.

Four years ago, scientists identified the gene that encodes UCP2 (SN: 4/8/97, p. 142). Since then, researchers have been looking for variations in the gene to help explain obesity, says geneticist Eric Ravussin of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He's worked extensively on the genetics of the Pima Indians of Arizona, who have some of the highest rates of obesity in the world (SN: 8/12/95, p. 103).

A group of researchers from several Austrian and French institutes report in the June NATURE GENETICS that variations in the so-called promoter--a control region--near the gene for UCP2 seem to influence risk of obesity. Wolfgang Patsch of the Landeskliniken Salzburg, an Austrian research hospital, and his colleagues studied the gene variations in laboratory-grown cells and in populations of obese or svelte Austrians. In both the cells and the people, the activity of the UCP2 gene in fat cells was higher in the presence of one variation than of the other. What's more, the researchers found that the risk of obesity was modestly but measurably lower for the people in the study who showed the higher gene activity. …

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