Skip to main content
Updated:
Original:

'Nature's fat-burning machine' could be key to human weight loss

Author:

A University of Minnesota Duluth biologist is working to unlock the secret to "nature's fat-burning machine" in his research on hibernation.

Each winter, the 13-lined ground squirrel curls up in a little ball to hibernate for periods of one to two weeks. When the rodent awakes, stored brown fat, or brown adipose tissue, provides energy.

The difference between brown fat and white fat (the other fat found in mammals' bodies)?

Brown fat "burns like crazy," Minnesota Public Radio reports.

"We know of no other example in the natural world where fat can be melted away that quickly," UMD biologist Matt Andrews, who has been studying the squirrels for years, told MPR.

MedicalNewsToday says the main function of brown fat is to generate heat, which is why higher levels of brown fat are found in hibernating animals and newborn babies.

Brown fat is also present in adult humans, but works differently than in hibernating squirrels, where certain fat genes are turned on when the rodent is awake.

"We have these genes. It's just that the hibernator, in its brown adipose tissue, can selectively turn them on, turn them off, which allows them to efficiently burn fat, and that's something through evolution we've lost the ability to do," Andrews told MPR.

Since almost every gene sequence found in the squirrel's brown fat is also found in the human genome, the research could someday lead to drugs that would help burn fat in humans.

However, as MPR notes, the gopher diet pill is a long way away.

In 2011, Andrews talked with the hosts of TPT's Almanac about the other potential human benefits could come from his research on hibernation study.

Next Up

Target store

Target unveils deals for 2-day 'Cyber Monday' event

The promotion kicks off Sunday, November 28.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 9.59.30 AM

Edina police warn of recent burglary trend targeting garages and vehicles

The Edina Police Department is increasing patrols in affected neighborhoods in response to the trend.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 9.03.06 AM

Charges: Man shot Uber Eats driver making a delivery in Cottage Grove

Otis Donnell Shipp was charged with second-degree attempted murder after turning himself in on Wednesday.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 7.36.14 AM

Waterfront hotel in Duluth sustains damage in kitchen fire

Authorities estimate the damage at around $75,000.

Screen Shot 2021-11-27 at 7.15.18 AM

Large groups of thieves target 2 Twin Cities Best Buys on Black Friday

It bears similarities to the flash-mob style thefts seen recently in California.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves' winning streak snapped at five games

The Wolves' bid for their longest winning streak since 2014 came up short.

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 6.45.53 PM

Teen arrested over fatal shooting of 5-year-old boy in Brooklyn Park

Police say the teen was filming a social media video while handling a gun.

Joe Biden

President Biden coming to Minnesota to promote Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

Tuesday's trip follows passage of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.

Kirill Kaprizov

Kaprizov gets into the holiday spirit to rout Jets

Kirill Kaprizov's four points led the Wild to a 7-1 victory.

Kirk Cousins

Coller: Cure to Vikings' disrupted season lies in an explosive passing game

The Vikings go to San Francisco knowing that a win would be a huge boost to their playoff hopes.

Related

Wisconsin dairy group removes weight-loss claims from website

The state-supervised dairy board is backing away from claims that milk and other dairy products can help people lose weight after some experts said the claims were deceptive.