Genes that are responsible for fat storage in cells have been identified by scientists at Gladstone Institutes of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
This discovery may further help researchers better understand obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and in finding their potential treatments as well.
It's long been known that lipid droplets are involved in building up fats in cells and the researchers have been focussing a lot on the genes involved in droplet biology.
In this study, scientists in the laboratories of Drs. Robert V. Farese, Jr., of Gladstone and UCSF, and Peter Walter, of UCSF, have come up with a genetic screen which may help in determining the genes contributing to fat storage in cell of fruit flies, and potentially other species.
"For some time, we have been studying the enzymes that make fats. But clearly, we need to know a lot more about the most basic processes that regulate cellular fat storage to be able to make progress on some very serious human diseases," Nature quoted Dr. Farese, senior investigator, as saying.
GICD scientist Dr. Yi Guo, and Dr. Tobias Walter kicked off a major discovery project in order to identify novel genes involved in fat storage. In the project, they first used RNAi screens for specifically inactivating all the genes in cells from fruit flies.
After completing the initial survey, Drs. Guo and Walther, have now started studying in detail the genes that have the most striking effects on fat storage in cells.
To their surprise, the researchers discovered that approximately 1.5 percent of all genes contribute towards lipid-droplet formation and regulation. Al these genes came out to be determinants of the size and number of lipid droplets in cells.
The researchers investigated a number of these in detail and it they were seen to profoundly affect droplet morphology and lipid utilization. After deleting the individual genes, it was possible to separate the resulting cells into five distinct phenotypic classes, on the basis of the number and appearance of the lipid droplets. Later, the most interesting genes will be utilised for functional studies in flies and mice.
These new studies will not only lead to significant advances in understanding the processes that regulate fat metabolism in cells, but it will also help the researchers to find novel therapeutic targets for treating diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.
In addition, the results of the study have implications for engineering plants and microorganisms to maximize seed oil production and biofuels, respectively.
"With this screen completed, the work turns now to many fascinating questions. How are lipid droplets formed" What regulates their size, numbers, and cellular locations" Do they help to traffic lipids within the cell" How does this cell biology relate to physiology and disease" These are early days in this area of biology, and the field is wide open," said Dr. Guo.
The study is published in Nature.