Greenlandic Inuit show genetic signatures of diet and climate adaptation

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Science  18 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6254, pp. 1343-1347
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab2319

Greenlanders' genomes signal a fatty diet

The evolutionary consequences of inhabiting a challenging environment can be seen within the genomes of Greenland Inuit. Fumagalli et al. have found signs of selection for genetic variants in fat metabolism, not just for promoting heat-producing brown fat cells but also for coping with the large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in their seafood diet (see the Perspective by Tishkoff). Genes under selection in these populations have a strong effect on height and weight of up to 2 cm and 4 kg, respectively, as well as a protective effect on cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Science, this issue p. 1343; see also p. 1282


The indigenous people of Greenland, the Inuit, have lived for a long time in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, including low annual temperatures, and with a specialized diet rich in protein and fatty acids, particularly omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). A scan of Inuit genomes for signatures of adaptation revealed signals at several loci, with the strongest signal located in a cluster of fatty acid desaturases that determine PUFA levels. The selected alleles are associated with multiple metabolic and anthropometric phenotypes and have large effect sizes for weight and height, with the effect on height replicated in Europeans. By analyzing membrane lipids, we found that the selected alleles modulate fatty acid composition, which may affect the regulation of growth hormones. Thus, the Inuit have genetic and physiological adaptations to a diet rich in PUFAs.

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