Skip to main content
Email Print Share

Fat Burning on the 'fly

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Insects may be useful models to understand more about metabolic dysfunction in humans. Penn State researchers found that parasite-infected dragonflies suffer the same metabolic disorders that lead to obesity and diabetes in humans. Their discovery links metabolic disease to a supposedly harmless parasite living inside the dragonfly and suggests the study of microbes found in human intestines may hold clues to the root causes of human metabolic dysfunction.

Credit: NSF/Clear Channel Communications/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

'Dragon' their weight around...

I'm Bob Karson with "The Discovery Files" -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(SOUND: swamp insects)

New research out of Penn State says that we may be able to learn more about human obesity from the almost weightless dragonfly.

This is the first study that shows a non-mammal exhibiting a metabolic dysfunction that acts in ways similar to humans.

Basically, something is causing fat dragonflies.

(SOUND: drafonfly going down like a WW2 plane)

That 'something' seems to be a supposedly harmless parasite inside the dragonfly's gut that causes inflammation, and changes metabolism. Since the dragonfly is unable to metabolize the fat, it collects around the muscles, and you have yourself one fatty 'fly.

The researchers wonder whether the balance of microbes in the human digestive system may generate a similar metabolic response.

Maybe we can learn something from these weight-draggin' dragonflies.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.