Marsupials Key to Discovering Origin of Heater Organs (Brown Fat) in Mammals

Around 100 million years ago, a remarkable evolutionary shift allowed placental mammals to diversify and conquer many cold regions of our planet. New research from Stockholm University and collaborating institutions shows that the typical mammalian heater organ, brown fat, evolved exclusively in modern placental mammals. In collaboration with the Helmholtz Munich and the Natural History Museum Berlin in Germany, and the University of East Anglia in the U.K., the Stockholm research team demonstrated that marsupials, our distant relatives, possess a not fully evolved form of brown fat. They discovered that the pivotal heat-producing protein called UCP1 became active after the divergence of placental and marsupial mammals. This finding is crucial for understanding the role of brown fat in mammalian evolution, endothermy, and metabolism.

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