Scientists identify hundreds of worm genes that regulate fat storage

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Genes with counterparts in mammals may shed light on obesity

Findings by Harvard researchers, published in the Jan. 16, 2003 issue of Nature, represent the first survey of an entire genome for all genes that regulate fat storage. The research team led by Gary Ruvkun, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Molecular Biology, and postdoctoral fellow Kaveh Ashrafi identified about 400 genes encompassing a wide range of biochemical activities that control fat storage. These studies were conducted using the tiny roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, an organism that shares many genes with humans and has helped researchers gain insights into diseases as diverse as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Many of the fat regulatory genes identified in this study have counterparts in humans and other mammals. “This study is a major step in pinpointing fat regulators in the human genome,” says Ruvkun, who is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. “Of the estimated 30,000 human genes, our study highlights about 100 genes as likely to play key roles in regulation of fat levels.”