That the human body contains good fat and bad fat has been known to scientists for some time, but mechanisms that allow us to convert one into the other have been a little harder to come by. In search of such a trigger, scientists have uncovered a switch in the fat cells of mice that helps them shed the extra pounds. The good news? That very same switch is present in humans.

Science has teased us with a so-called fat switch for years. White fat cells, which are the culprits behind obesity, store the energy that we don't use in what we see as love handles and beer bellies. Brown fat cells on the other hand, play the useful role of burning fat to produce heat and keep us warm. Research into how we can trick the body into generating more brown fat cells has produced some promising discoveries, like hormones that mimic the effects of exercise, for example.

Now a team of international scientists has unearthed yet another fat switch candidate. Working with mice, the team discovered an especially high number of receptors in brown fat cells that cling to a protein called Gq. They found that boosting the activity of the Gq protein led to a decrease in population and quality of the brown cells. Conversely, blocking its activity allowed more brown fat cells to prosper.

The team also investigated the effects on beige fat cells. This third type of fat cell was only discovered in 2012 and, like brown fat cells, has the ability to burn excess energy. The researchers observed that blocking the Gq protein in the beige cells also caused more fat-burning cells to mature. It is on these types of cells that they are pinning their hopes of success.

But there's a long way to go yet. The studies are described as being in a basic research stage, and any drugs that block the Gq proteins in humans are yet to be developed. But promisingly, the team did carry out experiments on cultured human cells in the lab, where they found the technique worked in much the same way.

"Even in human fat cells, it was shown that brown fat cells can grow much better once Gq proteins were blocked," says Dr. Alexander Pfeifer, from Germany's University of Bonn and member of the research team.

The research was published in the journal Nature.