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If obesity seems to be spreading like a virus, that could be because it is. We're now closer to understanding how adenovirus-36 (Ad-36), thought to be responsible for some cases of obesity, causes fat cells to grow.
Last year Nikhil Dhurandhar at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge showed that Ad-36 causes precursor cells to differentiate into fat cells, and could promote obesity in humans and animals. Now he has shown that a single viral gene is responsible for triggering this process, meaning that one day it may be possible to treat "viral obesity" by altering the action of that gene.
Dhurandhar's team engineered stem cells from human fat to express a single gene from Ad-36, called E4 ORF-1.