As the weather warms up, many people are beginning to try to burn their extra fat using every trick and technique in the book. Meanwhile, the brown squirrel burns fat overnight as it sleeps. University of Minnesota researchers stumbled upon this unique strategy while studying squirrel hibernation, and are now delving into the genes that control the process.
Hibernating mammals like squirrels have a special kind of fat known as “brown fat” that burns much faster than normal fat. This is useful in the event that such a mammal wakes up in the middle of winter and need to avoid freezing to death. Unlike normal fat, which burns very slowly to produce energy, brown fat burns very quickly and instead produces body heat. In fact, a squirrel burning brown fat can raise its body temperature by sixty degrees Fahrenheit in just two hours.
UMN professor of biology Matt Andrews believes that even though humans don’t hibernate, we still have all the genes necessary to produce brown fat. "All mammals have pretty much the same genes," he says in a recent University of Minnesota article. ”If we can find these little tricks animals use to burn fat, we might be able to mimic them and find a way to stimulate that process."
By sequencing the RNA of the squirrels, Andrews and his colleagues are finding exactly which genes regulate the production and burning of this type of fat. Their hope is that they can get humans to produce brown fat so that they can have an easier time of burning it.
(image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Laetitia C.)
This research was funding by grants from the NSF and NIH. To receive a more in-depth funding report for the University of Minnesota, please click the button below:
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