Newfound Gene That Turns Carbs Into Fat Could Be Target for Future Drugs

A gene that helps the body convert that cupcake you just polished off into fat could provide a new target for potential treatments for fatty liver disease, diabetes, and obesity.

UC Berkeley researchers are unlocking the molecular mechanisms of how our body converts dietary carbohydrates into fat, and as part of that research have found that a gene with the catchy name BAF60c contributes to fatty liver, or steatosis.

In the study, published online December 6 in the journal Molecular Cell, the researchers found that mice that have had the BAF60c gene disabled did not convert carbohydrates to fat, despite eating a high-carb diet.

“This work brings us one step forward in understanding fatty liver disease resulting from an excessive consumption of carbohydrates,” said the study’s senior author, Hei Sook Sul, a professor of nutritional science and toxicology. “The discovery of this role of BAF60c may eventually lead to the development of treatment for millions of Americans with fatty liver and other related diseases.”

More than three-quarters of obese people and one-third of Americans have fatty liver, or steatosis, according to epidemiological studies. A diet excessively high in bread, pasta, rice, soda, and other carbohydrates is a major risk factor for fatty liver, which is marked by the abnormal accumulation of fat within a liver cell. (See also “On the Ground: A Sampling of CNR Research in Obesity.”)

OUR HERO: On May 15, Karen Garrison, B.A.’82, M.S. ’87, Energy and Resources Group, will be recognized as a “Hero of the Seas” for citizen activism, in particular for her dedication to the creation, passage, and implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). The prestigious Peter Benchley Ocean Awards program is dedicated to recognizing excellence in ocean conservation solutions in the areas of science, policy, media, youth, and citizen activism.