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article imageUsing yeasts to study human obesity

By Tim Sandle     Jun 18, 2015 in Science
Researchers think that the study of yeasts can be particularly useful for gaining insights into human obesity. To explore this further, a biologist collaborated with a mathematician.
Yeasts are single-celled microorganisms, more sophisticated than bacteria and classified within the kingdom of fungi. Yeasts play an important role in the preparation of food and beverages (bread and beer being prime examples); some species are also highly infectious.
Researchers have been looking into a matrix of proteins that regulate fat storage in yeast. Here they are of the view that experimenting on these and studying the process further will make for a good model to understand obesity in people.
The research is led by Dr. Bader Al-Anzi, a biologist who works for the California Institute of Technology; and a mathematician called Christopher Ormerod. The maths professor has been enlisted to help understand the different cellular patterns, and to devise a computer model.
The reason that the yeast process is useful is because many of the proteins have mammalian counterparts. By using fast growing, single-celled organisms new drugs can be tested quickly and the results obtained very fast. With animals, like rodents, several weeks are needed for the effects of an obesity drug to be seen.
The results so far are interesting. For example, yeast cells rendered to mimic obesity grow more slowly than other cells. This is another sign that too much fat is now a good thing since it slows down the rate of normal cellular growth. The next step is to narrow down which proteins are critical to the obesity process.
Further work is continuing at the genetic level to gain a more detailed understanding. The research could lead to various trials of new generation anti-obesity drugs.
The new research has been published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. The research paper is called “"Experimental and Computational Analysis of a Large Protein Network That Controls Fat Storage Reveals the Design Principles of a Signaling Network.”
More about Obesity, Yeast, Cells, Fat
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