They will also reveal for the first time exactly how the condition develops, in a study set to pave the way for new “personalised treatments” to prevent its onset.
The new research could help doctors understand a patient’s individual risk of developing diabetes and what they should do to reduce it.
Previous research had linked some genes to obesity, but the new findings show there to be a number of genetic variants which are now thought to lower the risk.
The study will be revealed at the annual Diabetes UK Professional Conference at The ExCel in east London on Thursday.
The research team will show how the diabetes-related genes are linked to body fat. For example, they could reveal whether a person stores fat in a “safe place” under the skin – known as subcutaneous fat – or around the belly and important organs like the liver – known as visceral fat.
Dr Hanieh Yaghootkar, lead researcher of the study and Diabetes UK research fellow at the University of Exeter, said: “I am very excited by this work. We know Type 2 diabetes is a major problem for the world because people are getting fatter.
“We also know obesity is a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. But we have obese and overweight people who do not have the disease and we have lean or people with a healthy weight who do.
“Understanding the mechanisms that lead to the disease means we will not have to rely on body mass indexes to prioritise people for weight loss intervention.
“It also gives us potential to find drug targets to change the genetic pathways that put people at risk of the disease.”
Dr Emily Burns, head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said: “We know obesity is one of the strongest risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, but there are many people who are overweight or obese and don’t go on to develop the condition. Research like this helps us understand why this might be at a genetic level.”
She added: “While we hope genetics will open up potential ways to protect against Type 2 diabetes in the future, there are things we can all do today. You can reduce your risk by eating a healthy balanced diet and getting regular exercise.”
The ongoing research, carried out at Exeter, London, Dundee and various centres across Europe, has studied 451,000 people to find variations in the genes that are linked to levels of body fat.
The researchers collaborated with scientists at the University of Tubingen, Germany, Leiden University in Holland and Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body fails to make enough insulin or the insulin fails to work properly. It is estimated that 4.6 million people in the UK have diabetes – with 90 per cent of them having Type 2.
While the cause of Type 2 diabetes is poorly understood, most cases can be delayed through lifestyle changes.