Researchers at Flinders University knocked out a gene known as RCAN1 in mice, hypothesizing that this would increase "non-shivering thermogenesis," which "expends calories as heat rather than storing them as fat" — the mice were fed a high-calorie diet and did not gain weight.
In particular, the modified mice did not store fat around their middles — a phenomenon associated with many health risks, including cardiac problems — and their resting muscles burned more calories.
I wrote this into my 2009 novel Makers, and described a generation of formerly obese people who at first delighted in gorging on enormous meals, then realized that they were in danger of going broke paying for all the calories they needed to survive.
The study's authors point out that there's a time and place for RCAN1's role in preventing calories from being burned: namely, back when food was scarce and calories weren't so readily available. In the modern world of "caloric abundance", however, too much fat is being stored and real health problems are ensuing as a result. The researchers suggest that "These adaptive avenues of energy expenditure [such as RCAN1] may now contribute to the growing epidemic of obesity."
"We looked at a variety of different diets with various time spans from eight weeks up to six months," said Damien, "and in every case we saw health improvements in the absence of the RCAN1 gene.
"Mice on a high-fat diet that lacked this gene gained no weight."
A New Drug Could Let Us Eat Anything Without Gaining Weight [Gavin Butler/Vice]
Regulator of Calcineurin 1 helps coordinate whole‐body metabolism and thermogenesis [David Rotter, Heshan Peiris, D Bennett Grinsfelder, Alyce M Martin, Jana Burchfield, Valentina Parra, Christi Hull, Cyndi R Morales, Claire F Jessup, Dusan Matusica, Brian W Parks, Aldons J Lusis, Ngoc Uyen Nhi Nguyen, Misook Oh, Israel Iyoke, Tanvi Jakkampudi, D Randy McMillan, Hesham A Sadek, Matthew J Watt, Rana K Gupta, Melanie A Pritchard Damien J Keating and Beverly A Rothermel/Embo Reports] (Sci-Hub mirror)
Gene that lets you eat as much as you want holds promise against obesity [Flinders University/Science Daily]