Researchers find gene that turns carbs into fat

A waitress serves a meal inside the A380 In-flight Kitchen, a restaurant named after the giant Airbus airliner, in Taipei January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. researchers have found a gene responsible for turning a plate of pasta into fat, offering new clues about how the body metabolizes carbohydrates and how they contribute to obesity.

The gene, called DNA-PK, appears to regulate the process in the liver that turns carbohydrates into fat, the University of California, Berkeley team reported on Thursday in the journal Cell.

“We hope that this research will one day help people eat bread, pasta and rice and not worry about getting fat,” Roger Wong, a graduate student who worked on the study, said in a statement.

When they bred mice with a disabled version of this gene, the mice stayed slim even when fed the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet.

“The DNA-PK disabled mice were leaner and had 40 percent less body fat compared with a control group of normal mice because of their deficiency in turning carbs into fat,” Wong said.

He said the mice who lacked this gene did not get fat when they ate high-carb food and they had lower levels of blood cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Since humans have the same gene, the team thinks it may serve as a potential target for drugs to prevent obesity.

Editing by Maggie Fox and Sandra Maler