Research by UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University has found obesity may have a genetic component.
A study by Damaris Lorenzo, a professor at the UNC School of Medicine, and Vann Bennett, a biochemistry professor at Duke, showed that ankyrin-B, a gene responsible for coding the ankyrin-B protein, can cause fat cells in mice to absorb glucose faster due to deficiencies in the gene.
Bennett discovered the gene about 30 years ago. It was initially thought to exist mainly in brain tissue, but it was found in many types of cells 10 years later. When the researchers noticed some of the mice beginning to gain weight, they conducted further studies to examine the gene in relation to cardiac arrhythmia.
To further study the mice weight gain, the researches gave a mouse a human cardiac arrhythmia. The mouse gained weight as it got older despite no changes in diet and exercise.
“Damaris then found that if she took cells from these mice and grew them in subculture — no food or anything, just growing cells in culture — the cells became fat,” Bennett said. “So then we realized we had a very interesting phenomenon with cellular basis, not to do with eating too much or eating the wrong food. It was something intrinsically different about these cells.”