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Alexandra Zakharova

Feb 3, 2013 16:29 Moscow Time

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Photo: RIA Novosti

British researchers have found a cold resistance gene in the DNA of indigenous Siberian tribes, which helps them survive in the harsh local environment. A team of geneticists from Cambridge University took DNA samples from about 200 natives of Siberia. Laboratory tests revealed the presence of a cold-responsive gene that enhances freezing tolerance.

Remarkably, it controls metabolic processes, and not blood heat, as one may have thought it would. Vadim Stepanov, Deputy Director of the Medical Genetics Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian Department, holds that that every human has this gene.

“We all have one and the same set of genes. But their combinations vary among various ethnic groups. Northern tribes have gene combinations that participate in lipid metabolism. When we eat fat-rich food, fat is metabolized into lipids that are stored in our body as an energy reserve. This is essential for humans living in harsh climate.”

The inhabitants of warm countries have different metabolism. An African placed in Siberia will feel cold and hungry, because his small energy reserves will quickly run out and in order to replenish them he will have to eat plenty of meat and fat food. On the other hand, northerners may find it equally hard to adapt to the tropical climate. Their cold resistance gene had been evolving over the course of millenniums ever since humans began settling in Siberia and beyond the Arctic Circle. Valery Tishkov is Director of the Russian Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.

“The adaptation stretched for tens of thousands of years because it proceeded at a far slower pace than in Europeans who settled in the north of Europe. Scandinavians, by the way, have some distinctive features. You can tell them from Europeans who live in the warmer Mediterranean climate by their skin complexion and physique.”

DNA tests like the one performed by the Cambridge researchers could be of great use in selecting staff for work in extremely cold or extremely hot environments. Vadim Stepanov:

“For instance, we need to develop Antarctica or the Arctic, which means we will have to send people there – construction workers, navigators and so on. If they are genetically pre-adapted to these conditions, they will work more effectively and their health will be less impacted by the new environment.”

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