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When you pick up a cut of beef in the supermarket, you see the ribbons of fat, or marbling, within the meat. This intramuscular fat contributes to the rich flavor of beef.

Visceral fat, another major type of fat that’s found in the abdominal cavity, can affect the development of intramuscular fat.

Xing Fu, a researcher in the LSU AgCenter School of Animal Sciences, is working on a project that promises to reduce the amount of visceral fat an animal produces.

“We don’t want visceral fat,” he said. “It creates waste in meat and fat in people.”

With a three-year, $410,000 grant from the National Institute of Health, Fu is exploring ways to control fat development in all stages of growth in animals and humans.

How a body manufactures these fats and other components is controlled by a number of factors. One controller of visceral fat is a protein called Tcf21.

Working with laboratory mice, Fu is looking for a way to manipulate the body’s production of visceral fat. So far, he has found a potential way to control this process by “knocking out” or overexpressing Tcf21.

“We can induce a knockout or overexpression at any time,” Fu said. “It can function at different development stages.”

The result in cattle, for example, can lead to animals that don’t carry a lot of body fat but still produce the intramuscular fat that provides the marbling in the meat. This will increase food efficiency and improve conversion of feed to meat, he said.

In humans, the process can reduce visceral fat and improve metabolic health. “We want to explore its therapeutic potential,” Fu said.

Scientists have suggested a positive correlation between the growth of visceral fat and insulin resistance, which makes visceral fat a potential target for treating metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Fu’s research is looking at all stages of body development and how Tcf21 regulates fat development, how it contributes to fat expression and how it affects obesity. Because visceral fat is a contributing factor in diabetes, being able to knock out fat production at any time during a period of a person’s life can help control or even prevent the disease.

Because subcutaneous fat has a beneficial effect on metabolism, Fu’s research is specifically focusing regulating the visceral fat-specific cells without affecting subcutaneous fat. The results would help explain the specific relationship between visceral fat and insulin resistance and lead to appropriate visceral fat-targeted therapeutic strategies.

“We believe we can get something really exciting,” Fu said.

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