Researchers at the University of Bonn have identified a gene in fruit flies that controls the metabolism of fat.
The researchers called the gene 'schlank' (German for 'slim').
According to them, the discovery could help in developing new medicines to fight obesity as mammals also carry a group of genes that are structurally very similar to 'schlank'.
The larvae in which this gene is defective have been found to lose their entire fat reserves.
According to Professor Michael Hoch from the University of Bonn, 'in extreme cases the defect can even lead to death.'
The study showed that the gene contains the instructions of what is known as ceramide synthase. Ceramides serve as raw materials for the gauzy membranes that enclose all of the cells in the body.
Moreover, schlank also has a regulatory function. It promotes lipid synthesis and at the same time inhibits the mobilisation of fat from the fat reserves.
This gene is striking similar to Lass genes from mice that partially compensate for the defect schlank gene in mutant flies.
"We introduced a mouse Lass gene in mutant Drosophila larvae," said Hoch.
"Normally the larvae died immediately after hatching. Thanks to the Lass gene they resumed building up body fat and survived until the next development stage," he added.
The research has been published in The EMBO Journal.