Researchers turn off weight gain gene

March 19, 2009 6:27:01 PM PDT
A new UC Berkeley study sounds too good to be true. Scientists are developing a way to turn off the gene that makes us gain weight.

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It is easy to over-eat at a place like Brennan's, in Berkeley with too many tempting platefuls and too many tasty carbohydrates. If only science could come up with a magic pill.

"My reaction would be that I need to watch what I eat, but I would consider that pill," says Mike Palmer, a carbohydrate aficionado.

It might happen, based on a new study from UC Berkeley. Roger Wong, a UC Berkeley biochemist, is on his way to a doctorate degree based on groundwork he and his team have laid to make such a pill possible.

"Everyone is daydreaming about this," said Wong.

"Well we basically try to show how the whole body works," says Hei Sook Sul, Ph.D., a UC Berkeley researcher.

A gene is their latest tool. The gene is called DNA-PK. It is the switch in the liver that turns carbohydrates into fat. These researchers have found a way to turn it off -- at least in mice.

"They cannot convert carbohydrates to fat. That's why they have lower body weight," said Wong.

The study used mice and found that those without the gene had lower levels of body fat than normal ones in a control group. Red spots marked fat cells in normal mice. Now another picture showed how mice with the gene switch off, were much leaner. If the research proves viable with humans, it could help control chronic obesity.

"Obesity itself is not so terrible, but it's associated with cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and cancer even," says Sul.

Any magic pill, however, is years away. Until then, at least, gluttony remains a no-no and guilt is a survival instinct.

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