Strength in small numbers

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Science  18 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6254, pp. 1282-1283
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0584

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Complex traits such as height and weight are influenced by multiple genes and by environmental factors. Because of this complexity, genetic studies of these traits often involve hundreds of thousands of individuals. These studies typically focus on urban populations, for which large sample sizes are readily available. For example, the GIANT consortium recently reported 697 genetic variants that explain 20% of the heritability of adult height (1), and 97 loci that account for just 2.7% of phenotypic variation in body mass index (BMI) (2). These discoveries required a staggering 250,000 to 300,000 individuals in total. And yet, on page 1343 of this issue, Fumagalli et al. report the identification of genetic variants influencing height and BMI based on data from just a few thousand Inuit individuals (3). These results exemplify how modern humans have adapted to diverse climates and diets.