A handy set of genetic adaptions help the Inuit people survive in some of the Earth’s harshest conditions.
Yesterday, scientists said a study of the genomes of Inuit from Greenland revealed unique genetic variants related to fat metabolism that ward off cardiovascular disease that otherwise could be caused by a diet traditionally high in fat from blubbery seals and whales.
These genetic mutations, which the researchers said arose perhaps 20.000 years ago, help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and fasting insulin levels, limit the height of the Inuit, keep down their weight and help them adapt to a cold environment.
– Our study is perhaps the most extreme example to date of a genetic adaptation to a specific diet, computational biology professor Rasmus Nielsen of the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Copenhagen told Reuters yesterday.
- The mutations we find 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, and possibly also from other mammals.
The researchers examined genomes of 191 Inuit, 60 Europeans and 44 Han Chinese. The genetic variants found almost universally in the Inuit were much rarer in the Europeans (2 percent) and Chinese (15 percent).
The research is the latest to illustrate human genetic adaption to environmental conditions, and the findings may shed light on the value of diet supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and fish oils.
The Inuit, formerly called Eskimos, are indigenous people in Greenland and Arctic regions of Canada and Alaska.