Researchers at the University of Iowa are trying to unlock the secrets of fat cells which may someday help prevent obesity. The human body has two types of fat — white fat, which creates obesity, and brown fat, which keeps the body warm.

Doctor Andrew Norris, a U-of-I pediatrics professor, says they’ve found what’s called a bone morphogenic protein, or B-M-P, which may be able to switch developing fat cells to the brown kind that burn energy.

Norris says, "This B-M-P number seven was very effective at turning precursor cells into brown fat but not into white fat." The protein’s been tested in mice and he says so far, so good. "The brown fat was very metabolically-active," Norris says. "It was burning extra fuel and the mice were protected from becoming obese when they were fed a Western-style high-fat diet."

Norris says a similar approach might work in humans, though that’s still a ways down the road. He says the objective has never been to allow people to lead unhealthy lifestyles while maintaining a slim physique, but rather to assist people who can’t drop the pounds through good diets and exercise.

Norris says, "We all know people that can eat a lot and never get heavy and we know people that don’t eat that much and still get heavy. This would be aimed at the person who has inherited a genetic propensity to become obese and it would help them overcome that." The findings are being published in the August 21st issue of the journal Nature.

AUDIO: Radio Iowa’s Matt Kelley reports. :40 MP3