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    Natural Selection Protected Some East Asian Populations From Alcoholism
    Race; Posted on: 2008-04-04 00:08:14 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
    DNA study suggests racial link to drinking behaviors

    Some change in the environment in many East Asian communities during the past few thousand years may have protected residents from becoming alcoholics, a new genetic analysis conducted by Yale School of Medicine researchers suggests.

    Scientists have long known that many Asians carry variants of genes that help regulate alcohol metabolism. Some of those genetic variants can make people feel uncomfortable, sometimes even ill, when drinking small amounts of alcohol. As a result of the prevalence of this gene, many, but not all, communities in countries such as China, Japan and Korea have low rates of alcoholism.

    The study is by Hui Li and others in the laboratory of Kenneth Kidd, professor of genetics, psychiatry and ecology & evolutionary biology.

    Last year Kidd's team reported evidence that recent natural selection in East Asia had caused one particular variant of the alcohol-regulating gene to become common. In this new paper Li and others in Kidd's team analyzed this variant in the DNA of individuals in many different population groups.

    They uncovered evidence that the variant became widespread through natural selection in only some of those East Asian populations -- specifically, the Hmong- and Altaic-speaking groups. Those genetic clues, say the scientists, suggest that something was different in the environment of those populations and that the genetic difference assisted survival in that environment. The researchers have not yet identified that environmental difference and say the genetic change could be triggered by any number of factors, such as the emergence of some new parasite.

    That these populations turn out to be less prone to the ravages of demon rum, says Kidd, "is just a serendipitous event" of evolution. "What this finding does is highlight that something important in recent human history has affected the genetic composition of many East Asian populations," he notes.

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    News Source: ScienceDaily

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