A statement from Flinders University said experiments with the gene, given the name RCAN1, had led to hopes that the same effect would be achieved in humans and help to combat obesity which causes diseases like diabetes.
The team, led by Professor Damien Keating at Flinders University, used a big genetic screen in rodents to identify possible genes that were causing obesity.
“We know a lot of people struggle to lose weight or even control their weight for a number of different reasons," Professor Keating said.
There are two types of fat in the human body — brown, that burns energy and white, that stores energy — and Professor Keating said blocking RCAN1 helped to transform unhealthy white fat into healthy brown fat, presenting a potential treatment for obesity.
“We have already developed a series of drugs that target the protein that this gene makes, and we are now in the process of testing them to see if they inhibit RCAN1 and whether they might represent potential new anti-obesity drugs,” he said.
“In the light of our results, the drugs we are developing to target RCAN1 would burn more calories while people are resting. It means the body would store less fat without the need for a person to reduce food consumption or exercise more.”
Two-thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of children are either overweight or obese, and the statistics are similar in the UK and the US.