A pill that allows dieters to gorge on junk food without putting on a pound is being developed by scientists.
The couch potato's dream, it would allow people to eat all their favourite foods without worrying about their waistline. The wonder drug would also protect against diabetes, liver disease and other debilitating conditions associated with unhealthy eating habits. The breakthrough hinges on the discovery of a metabolism 'masterswitch' - a gene key to weight control.
Mice lacking the gene, known as IKKE, stay slim despite being fed a lard-based diet. The 'knock-out' mice also free of the liver problems associated with a junk food diet and appear to be protected against diabetes, the journal Cell reports.
Researcher Alan Saltiel said: 'We've studied other genes associated with obesity - we call them "obesogenes" - but this is the first one we've found that, when deleted, stops the animal from gaining weight. The fact that you can disrupt all the effects of the high fat diet by deleting this one gene in mice is pretty interesting and surprising.'
It is thought that the gene makes enzymes called kinases that help regulate metabolism. Removing the gene - and the kinases - speeds up metabolism, leading to more calories being burnt.
Dr Saltiel said: 'Perhaps most interestingly, the mice burn more calories even though they aren't eating any less or exercising any more.'