research on obesity is really going places these days. a little while ago, i reported on the discovery of an obesity virus and an obesity molecule.
now, feifan guo and douglas cavener, two biologists at penn state university, have discovered an enzyme with the weighty name of GCN2 eIF2alpha kinase (let’s call it GAK, shall we?), which, among other things, has a profound impact on fat metabolism. they found when a single amino acid, leucine, is removed from the diet, GAK switches the body to a starvation response, resulting in rapid consumption of stored fat.
the major food sources of leucine are whole grains and milk products. eggs, pork, beef, chicken, pulses, soybeans, and leaf vegetables are good sources of leucine.
what is quite fascinating is that their research also applies to the opposite problem – malnutrition due to insufficient protein intake, which plagues the populations of the poorer nations of asia and africa. there, people often eat a diet with sufficient
calories but lacking in essential amino acids, which results in stunted growth, developmental disorders, and sometimes death. (go here for the whole story).
of course, i would be interested in other effects of a lack of leucine. for example, the article on cavener’s and guo’s research implies that a lack of leucine also means that the body attacks muscle tissue in its starvation response. that doesn’t sound like such a good thing. also, as someone who works with people with the whole spectrum of eating disorders – from overeating to anorexia, the idea of inducing the body to go into starvation mode makes me a little nervous.
let’s see if we can get some answers from people who just might know about these things – i’m going to ask daniel at migrations, larry moran from sandwalk, and keith robison at omics! omics! oh – and i might as well ask feifan guo, too.
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