Diabetes gene may come from Neanderthals
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells in the body do not use insulin properly. It is an illness which is known to disproportionately affect Hispanics/Latinos in the United States, but scientists have been unclear as to the reason why. However, a new study suggests that it may be due to a genetic link which began thousands of generations ago.
While it is known that Type 2 diabetes is caused by many factors, including diet and exercise, it is also known that genes play a part in determining whether a person develops the disease or not. Now an international team of scientists have identified mutations in a gene that suggests an explanation for why Hispanics/Latinos are almost twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes as Caucasians and African-Americans.
Harvard geneticist David Altshuler and his colleagues analysed DNA from more than 8,000 Mexicans and other Hispanics/Latinos. The team found many genes already known to be involved with diabetes. However, a new one was also identified - a gene that’s likely involved in fat metabolism – and it appears to increase a person’s risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by about 20 percent.
About half of Hispanics/Latinos carry the disease mutations, while only 2 percent of European Americans carry the mutations. So the new genetic data help to explain a big proportion of the difference in Type 2 diabetes prevalence between Hispanics/Latinos and European Americans. This
“The findings are important because they give us a new biological clue about a gene involved in diabetes, which could lead to more treatments,” said Altshuler.
However, another particularly interesting finding was that humans picked up the diabetes mutations from Neanderthals. “As far as I know, this is the first time a version of a gene from Neanderthal has been connected to a modern-day disease,” Altshuler said.
Altshuler pointed out that this does not mean that Neanderthals had diabetes, merely that they carried the mutation. In fact, many of our modern day diseases were absent in our ancient ancestors, presumably because they were not exposed to the same toxins that are in our environment and diets today.