A new study has revealed that there are certain genetic traits which help Inuit people adapt to the harsh living conditions of the Arctic.
• Researchers explain how the Inuit’s genetic traits protect them from having poor health.
• Researchers compare their study to earlier studies that looked at the Inuit people.
• Researchers describe how they compared the genomes of various peoples to reach their conclusions.
Field experts from several universities banded together to conduct a study on the genomes of Greenland’s Inuit and noticed unique genetic variants which relate to fat metabolism. They say that these variants protect the Inuit from developing cardiovascular disease, which would normally be caused by their diet – meals rich in fat from whales and blubbery seals.
The newly discovered genetic mutations are believed to have occurred about 20.000 years ago, and are responsible for lowering bad cholesterol levels (LDL), fasting insulin levels, limiting the Inuit people’s height as well as their weight, and helping them adapt to cold environments.
Rasmus Nielsen, computational biology professor from the University of California Berkeley, as well as the University of Copenhagen, gave a statement saying that the study he and his colleagues conducted “is perhaps the most extreme example to date of a genetic adaptation to a specific diet”.
He went on to explain that the mutations the research team found “seem to compensate physiologically for a large intake of animal fat and are largely an adaptation to a lifestyle in which you have a high-caloric intake of fat from marine mammals”. He also added that there’s a possibility they compensate for fat consumed from other mammals as well.
To reach these conclusions, the research team looked at 191 Inuit, 60 Europeans, and 44 Han Chinese, and examined their genomes. The genetic variants that were almost universal in Inuit people, were a lot rarer in Europeans and Han Chinese. Professor Nielsen and his colleagues only found them in 2 percent (2%) of the European subjects, and only 15 percent (15%) of the Han Chinese subjects.
The study is one of many recent scientific projects to highlight how various peoples and species adapt to their environments through genetic chances.
Anders Albrechtsen, another computational biology professor from the University of Copenhagen, gave a statement of his own saying that one particularly fascinating example is the Tibetans’ ability to adapt to high altitudes. They have genes that can carry oxygen in their blood even in high altitudes where there are only low levels of oxygen.
Professor Nielsen also informed that the new study may help field experts better understand how omega 3 fish oil supplements can improve people’s health.
The Inuit people were formally known as Eskimos. They are indigenous people who can be found living in Greenland, Alaska, and the Arctic regions of Canada.
The findings were published earlier this week, on Thursday (September 17, 2015), in the journal Science.
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