'Obesity Gene' May Have an Off Switch

Scientists discover how faulty gene makes people fat
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2015 4:30 AM CDT
'Obesity Gene' May Have an Off Switch
A heavyset man rests on a bench in Jackson, Miss.   (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Fighting obesity is a lot more complicated than simply eating less and exercising more, according to researchers who have made a major breakthrough in studying the FTO "obesity gene." The gene was linked to obesity years ago, and scientists say they've now figured out how it works, as well as how it can be reversed, the AP reports. According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the gene acts as a "switch" for other genes that affect whether energy from what people eat is stored as fat or burned off. People who inherited a faulty version of the gene from one parent, and especially those who inherited faulty versions from both parents, are a lot more likely to be obese.

The researchers discovered that a gene editing sequence can reverse the effect, reports the Telegraph, which predicts that "a cure for obesity could be just an injection away," though the AP notes that a lot of testing lies ahead before a safe treatment can hit the market—and since the gene problem is widespread in white people but is found in only 5% of black people, "other genes are clearly at work." Still, experts call the finding a "big deal" with plenty of promise for treating obesity. "Obesity has traditionally been seen as the result of an imbalance between the amount of food we eat and how much we exercise, but this view ignores the contribution of genetics to each individual's metabolism," an MIT researcher tells Discovery. (More obesity stories.)

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