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Gene thought to cause obesity works indirectly

Variant determines whether calories are burned or stored as fat

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5:15pm, August 19, 2015

WEIGHING OPTIONS  A gene once thought to cause obesity isn’t the culprit. Researchers have found a hidden genetic switch that turns energy-storing white fat (mouse fat cells shown in red, with blood vessels in green) into energy-burning cells known as beige fat.

Researchers have discovered a “genetic switch” that determines whether people will burn extra calories or save them as fat.

A genetic variant tightly linked to obesity causes fat-producing cells to become energy-storing white fat cells instead of energy-burning beige fat, researchers report online August 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Previously scientists thought that the variant, in a gene known as FTO (originally called fatso), worked in the brain to increase appetite. The new work shows that the FTO gene itself has nothing to do with obesity, says coauthor Manolis Kellis, a computational biologist at MIT and the Broad Institute. But the work may point to a new way to control body fat.

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