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Researchers engineer metabolic pathway in mice to prevent diet-induced obesity
Date:6/2/2009

In recent years, obesity has taken on epidemic proportions in developed nations, contributing significantly to major medical problems, early death and rising health care costs. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, at least a quarter of all American adults and more than 15 percent of children and adolescents are obese.

While recent research advances and treatment methods have had little effect in reducing obesity levels, researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, in collaboration with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, may have discovered a completely new way to approach the problem.

In a study to be published in the June 3 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, chemical and biomolecular engineering professor James Liao, associate professor of human genetics and pediatrics Katrina Dipple and their research team demonstrate how they successfully constructed a non-native pathway in mice that increased fatty acid metabolism and resulted in resistance to diet-induced obesity.

"When we looked at the fatty-acid metabolism issue, we noted there are two aspects of the problem that needed to be addressed," Liao said. "One is the regulation; fatty acid metabolism is highly regulated. The other is digestion of the fatty acid; there needs to be a channel to burn this fat."

"We came up with an unconventional idea which we borrowed from plants and bacteria," said Jason Dean, a graduate student on Liao's team and an author of the study. "We know plants and bacteria digest fats differently from humans, from mammals. Plant seeds usually store a lot of fat. When they germinate, they convert the fat to sugar to grow. The reason they can digest fat this way is because they have a set of enzymes that's uniquely present in plants and bacteria. These enzymes are called the 'glyoxylate shunt' and are missing in mammals."

To investigate the effect
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Contact: Wileen Wong Kromhout
wwkromhout@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0540
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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