Fat “Master Switch” Gene Found

Posted May 16th, 2011 at 7:36 pm (UTC-5)
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Scientists may have discovered the so-called “master switch” gene that’s linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels. Researchers believe the gene, known as KLF14,  controls the behavior of other genes found in body fat.

Although genetic researchers have known about KLF14′s connection to  diabetes and cholesterol levels for some time, this study shows how the gene acts like a regulator in controlling other genes located in the body’s fat cells.

Professor Mark McCarthy, of the University of Oxford, co-authored the study. “KLF14 seems to act as a master switch controlling processes that connect changes in the behavior of subcutaneous fat to disturbances in muscle and liver that contribute to diabetes and other conditions.”

Subcutaneous fat is the fat located just below the skin.

The other genes found to be controlled by KLF14 have been connected to a wide series of metabolic traits including obesity, cholesterol, insulin and glucose levels. Researchers say the finding illustrates just how connected these traits are to one another.

Since fat is a central factor in conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes, scientists hope finding this central regulatory gene will one day lead to new treatments to fight these diseases.

And, although we all inherit a set of genes from both of our parents, the activity of this “master switch” gene,  is said to be inherited from the mother. In a process called imprinting, researchers found that the copy of KLF14 from the father is switched off while the copy from the mother remains active.

The study was published recently in the  in scientific journal, Nature Genetics and was one part of a large multi-national collaboration known as the MuTHER study.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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