Yeast to Serve as Gateway for Human Obesity Exploration

Jul 01 2015 Read 1970 Times

An investigation by scientists at the Californian Institute of Technology (Caltech) has taken major steps in providing an insight into the analysis of human obesity. How? Through studying a network of 94 proteins found in yeast, which work in tandem with each other to regulate fat content in the structure.

The study offers the potential of a major breakthrough in understanding what causes obesity and makes some of us more prone to it than others. As well as potentially paving the way to avoid the likelihood of becoming overweight, the research could also shed light on how to prevent diseases caused by (or at least, exacerbated by) obesity.

The Study

A team of mathematicians and biologists at Caltech, led by chief research scientist Bader Al-Anzi, screened a selection of around 5,000 mutant strains of yeast. Using thin-layer chromatography, the team were able to discern a collection of 94 genes, identified as proteins, in the composition of the yeasts. Closer inspection revealed that these were in fact bonded together to form a tightly-centred network.

Even more interestingly, Al-Anzi and his colleagues then discovered that removing any single one of these proteins would lead to an increase in fat content of the yeast. This was measured using thin-layer chromatography plates, which are able to quantify fat bands.

The findings concluded that those proteins which were more centrally-active than others would have a greater effect on the output of the network. Put more simply, this means that the removal of some proteins would lead to a sharper increase in fat content than others. Identifying which proteins are more responsible for such regulation, and ensuring they stay in a balanced state in the human body, could be the key to avoid obesity in ourselves.

How the Findings Can Be Applied

Just over a year ago, new ground was broken when the first man-made yeast chromosome was engineered by Dr Jef Boeke and his team at the NYU Medical Centre. Although DNA chromosomes had been replicated in the past, the makeup of yeast is considerably more complicated – and as such, the event was something of a breakthrough. To learn more about it, check out the article Scientists Create First Synthetic Chromosome for Yeast.

Following on from this innovation, the new findings on the relationship between yeast proteins and fatty build-up could allow us a fresh outlook on how obesity works in humans. The main advantage of such a technique is the fact that yeast is a single-cell organism. This means that analysis of it can be conducted in a fast, accurate and relatively simple manner.

Looking further down the road, once the research has been developed more extensively, it’s feasible to envisage that study of yeast proteins could allow us to pioneer new methods of preventing obesity-related diseases, such as liver disease. The article Developments in the Understanding and Assessment of Liver Fibrosis covers this ground in greater detail, looking at the problems of existing methods and the potential benefits of future ones.

Image Source: Yeast Cell  
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