Mice lose a gene to drop some weight

In addition to having less fat and more muscle, mutated rodents live 20 percent longer than normal

Shedding a gene called FAT10 helps mice lose body fat and live longer, a new study shows.

Scientists already knew that FAT10’s protein gets tacked on to other proteins, sending them to cellular garbage disposals called proteosomes. But mice can live without that protein, Allon Canaan of Yale School of Medicine and colleagues report March 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In fact, mice lacking the FAT10 gene looked young for their age, because they had more muscle and more luxurious fur than their counterparts with functioning FAT10, the team discovered. Animals that didn’t have the gene had less body fat and lived 20 percent longer lives than normal mice did. Rodents lacking the gene also burned more energy — especially fat — and their muscles became more responsive to insulin and less prone to inflammation.

Metabolism slows down as people age, and chronic inflammation is a hallmark of many aging-related diseases. Inflammation and insulin resistance are also problems for people with type 2 diabetes. If the human version of FAT10 works the same way as the mouse gene does, drugs that interfere with it could treat obesity and diabetes and delay aging-related diseases. 

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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