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Mutant Worms May Provide Cure for Obesity

A mutant roundworm that rapidly consumes its own fat could help researchers develop new treatments for obesity in humans.

Roundworm. Photo by Josh Grosse, 2002.Roundworm. Photo by Josh Grosse, 2002.Researchers from McGill University in Canada investigated how normal roundworms react to extended periods of starvation. Normally, the worms go into a state of suspended animation called "dauer." By slowing their metabolism and shutting down cell division and reproduction, the worms can survive for up to six months without food.

The key to this ability is that the worms stock up on large amounts of fatty lipids, storing it in special cells.

However, McGill researchers Richard Roy and Patrick Narbonne discovered that roundworms with a certain mutation cannot adjust their metabolism like normal roundworms do. Even though the mutant worms store six months' worth of lipids, as soon as they enter dauer, they consume all the fat in a few days.

The scientists explain that the mutant worms lack an enzyme that is supposed to regulate a lipase. Without regulation, this lipase burns up all the fat in the worm's body extremely quickly.

The next step, the researchers say, is to begin looking at this enzyme in humans, and see if they could develop drugs to temporarily stop the enzyme from regulating the fat-burning lipase, thereby allowing the lipase to tear through lipids on a fat-burning spree.

The researchers hope that the discovery will have significant implications for human health, especially individuals with obesity or diabetes.

via: McGill University