New research announced Monday found that when human stem cells - the blank slate of the cell world - were exposed to a common virus, they turned into fat cells. They didn't just change; they stored fat, too.
While this may be a guilt-free explanation for putting on pounds, it doesn't explain all, or even most, of America 's growing obesity problem. But it adds to other recent evidence that blames expanding waistlines on more than just super-sized appetites and underused muscles.
For several years, researchers have looked at a possible link between obesity and this common virus, called adenovirus-36, from a family of viruses that cause colds and pinkeye in people.
They had already found that a higher percentage of fat people had been infected with the virus than nonfat people. They had exposed animals to the virus and got them to fatten up and found a gene in the virus that causes animals to get obese, reports Carlsbad Current Argus.
Magdalena Pasarica, who led the study, obtained adult stem cells from fat tissue of people who had undergone liposuction. Stem cells are a type of master cell that exist in an immature form and give rise to more specialized cells.
Half the stem cells were exposed to Ad-36. After a week, most of the infected stem cells developed into fat cells, while the uninfected cells were unchanged.
Before a vaccine can be developed, Dhurandhar said he and his colleagues need to better understand the role of Ad-36 in human obesity, reports Montreal Gazette.
And the study shows that 30% of obese people carry the virus, compared with 11% of average-weight individuals.
Tam Fry, board member of the National Obesity Forum and chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, said: "I think you have to take this research seriously and it would be wrong to dismiss it as nonsense.
"But it would be absolutely absurd to assume that obesity is something you 'catch' and cannot be helped.
"The crucial message is that whatever you do you must balance energy in with energy out. If you eat more than you burn, you'll get fat," reports Nursing in Practice.