Recent discoveries made by German scientists tinkering with genes linked to fat metabolism join the growing armoury in the battle of the bulge.
A team of researchers from the European Molecular Biology laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, investigating the role that the gene Lsd2 played in the fat storage of Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) find that it may be crucial to life.
Two genes with a similar function in lipid metabolism have been previously identified in mammals including man. But in this latest study, Luis Teixeira and Nathalie F. Vanzo, describing a gene from the same family in Drosophila, suggest that these genes must be crucial for life or they would not have been conserved in such diverse organisms as humans and fruit flies.
Teixeira and Vanzo's work - published in the September issue of the Mechanisms of Development - shows that Lsd2 in Drosophila is equivalent to a family of genes previously described in mammals. One of those mammals' genes is called perilipin.
Previous studies have shown that, in mice, the lack of perilipin gives rise to individuals with a leaner and more muscular body. In humans, studies of obese women have revealed alterations in perilipin, report the authors of the German study.
The scientists write that although for many years lipids were merely associated with cells involved in fat storage or transport, their discovery in many other type of cells has made apparent that their role is probably also much more diverse than previously thought.
"While we all know the importance of understanding lipid metabolism in obesity, it is now known that alterations in this metabolism are associated with some of the most widespread human diseases, such as artheriosclerosis and diabetes (more than 80 per cent of type 2 diabetics - the most common type of diabetes affecting more than 151 million of people - are also obese)," write the study authors.
They stress that lipids seem to be linked to a range of life processes from inflammation in mammals to the release of animal pheromones.
Teixeira and Vanzo claim that their work is important not only 'because it describes a new gene but also because it reveals Drosophila as a genetic model for such an important gene family'.