‘Fat’ Genes May Determine Where Weight Is Stored

What they’re learning may lead to new therapies for targeted weight loss.

By Wendy RigbyJanuary 20, 2017 11:19 am| , , ,

From Texas Public Radio

The risks associated with carrying around extra weight are well-known. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Our bodies naturally store fat under the skin and in our bellies, but when there’s too much fat and it needs somewhere to go, fat can surround vital organs or creep into tissue where it doesn’t belong. The medical term is ectopic fat.

“It gets into the liver. It gets around the heart. It gets into muscles,” explained Michael Olivier, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Genetics at Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

“The fat that accumulates in those unusual locations is actually the fat that has the negative impact on our health,” Olivier pointed out.

Olivier is part of a group of researchers who wanted to know if genetics influence where your body stores fat. They took information from 18-thousand people of various ethnicities: European, Hispanic, African, Asian. Looking at scans of their bodies and matching the information up with their genes, scientists identified seven new genes that factor into fat storage.

The technology that makes this kind of genetic research possible is the incredible computing capacity at Texas Biomed. Here, more than 6000 processors work in parallel, with a master computer coordinating their work. It’s as if instead of reading 6000 books one at a time, you could read and understand them simultaneously. Genetic analyses that would take a single machine months to complete can be finished in hours.

“It’s the AT&T Genomics Computing Center,” said Jack Kent, Ph.D., a statistical geneticist. He thinks the published work could open doors to new therapies.

“Obviously the fact that these are new genes that have not been characterized before, that’s surprising in the sense that it’s novel and leads to new possibilities,” Kent added.

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