Scientists have discovered an obesity gene in mice which may explain why some people are more prone to weight gain than others.
Mice bred without the gene – dubbed IRX3 – were found to be almost a third lighter than rodents with the gene.
An equivalent gene exists in humans, and geneticists argue that targeting it with drugs may help doctors control obesity in the future.
The research has been carried out by geneticists at the University of Chicago. The team’s findings were published in the journal Nature.
“Our data strongly suggests that IRX3 controls body mass and regulates body composition,” said geneticist Marcelo Nobrego.
He added that scientists hope to find out which cell functions are altered by IRX3, and how, so that drugs can be developed to fight obesity.
Obesity and related diseases like diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in many developed countries.
The causes are complex, including a lack of exercise, high-fat and high-sugar diets, and genetic inheritance.
Numerous other genes have been identified as contributing to obesity in the past, and experts have cautioned against placing too much hope on a simple pharmaceutical solution.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity nearly doubled worldwide from 1980 to 2008.
More than a third of adults, some 1.4 billion people, were overweight in 2008, and more than one in ten, about half-a-billion people, were obese.