Too fat? Study fingers one "thrifty gene" suspect

Wed Dec 15, 2010 3:44pm EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Looking beyond obvious causes of obesity like overeating, scientists said on Wednesday they may have found a gene that also plays a role, one that helped our ancestors survive famines.

Targeting this thrifty gene and others with diagnostic tests and drugs offers another way to fight the global epidemic of obesity, the researchers said.

Mice bred to lack this gene, known as CRTC3, can eat a high-fat diet without gaining weight, while normal mice on the same diet grow plump, the researchers found.

And Mexican Americans who have an especially potent version of this gene are more likely to be obese than others, Dr. Marc Montminy of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California and colleagues reported in the journal Nature.

The gene did not appear to have the same effect in whites, which supports what scientists know -- that obesity is very complex. But CRTC3 is clearly important.

"It slows down the rate at which the fat cells burn fat," Montminy said of the gene in a telephone interview.

The findings lend more evidence to the theory of obesity made popular in the 1960s, which held that certain people have genes that slow metabolism, making it harder to lose weight.

These "thrifty genes would slow the rate of fat burning and increase your chances of surviving famine," Montminy said.   Continued...