Humans Adapt to Icy Life

A genetic analysis of Siberians finds three genes that have evolved to help the populations weather the frigid winters.

Jan 30, 2013
Beth Marie Mole

WIKIMEDIA, Dmitry A. MottlScrutinizing 200 DNA samples from people in 10 native Siberian populations, researchers have identified three genes that are under direct natural selection to help inhabitants better cope with the cold conditions—such as average January temperatures of -25° C. The study, presented in a meeting in Cambridge earlier this month (January 18), identified one previously known cold-adaptive gene, UCP1, which helps body fat directly produce heat, as well as two new genes: PRKG1, which is involved in preventing heat loss, and ENPP7, which plays a role in metabolizing fats.

“The results are fascinating,” geneticist Danae Dodge of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study, told ScienceNOW. They provide evidence that “we have continued to evolve in our modern world.”

The authors claim that the findings also support the idea that indigenous Siberian populations adapted in slightly different ways, since the three genes differed in their evolution among the various populations. The evolution of UCP1 was most strongly selected for in the southern groups, for examples, while PRKG1, which is involved in smooth muscle contraction necessary for shivering and blood vessel constriction, was more adapted in central and northeastern Siberian groups. ENPP7, implicated in the metabolism of fats from meats and dairy products—staples of the Siberian diet—was strongly adapted in populations throughout the country.