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‘Neanderthals Gave’ Latin Americans Diabetes Risk Gene

Update Date: Dec 26, 2013 10:06 AM EST

In a new study, researchers identified a new gene variant that could explain the increased risk of diabetes in Latin Americans. According to the international team of researchers, this gene variant can be tied to the Neanderthals who left Africa roughly 60,000 to 70,000 years ago. The research team, known as SIGMA (Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas), explained that the Neanderthal genes have been dispersed throughout the world and have been passed down through the genomes of non-African people as well.

The researchers had made this discovery in a genome-wide associations study (GWAS), which had data on over 8,000 Mexicans and other Latin Americans. This particular study had examined the genomes of different people with the goal of finding links between people. The research team had identified a high risk gene variant for diabetes called SLC16A11.

The researchers reported the people with SLC16A11 were 25 percent more likely to develop diabetes. Individuals who had received a copy of the gene from both parents had doubled the risk of developing diabetes. SLC16A11 was found in roughly half of the people who had a recent Native American family history, which included Latin Americans. The gene variant, however, is extremely rare in people of European or African descent. Roughly 20 percent of people from East Asia have the gene variant.

The researchers also tied the high risk gene sequence to a newly sequenced genome of Neanderthals from the Denisova Cave in Serbia. The researchers reasoned that the gene could have developed due to interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans.

"To date, genetic studies have largely used samples from people of European or Asian ancestry, which makes it possible to miss culprit genes that are altered at different frequencies in other populations," said co-author Jose Florez, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts according to BBC News. "By expanding our search to include samples from Mexico and Latin America, we've found one of the strongest genetic risk factors discovered to date, which could illuminate new pathways to target with drugs and a deeper understanding of the disease."

The study was published in Nature.

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