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Adaptive no more

A potential benefit in prehistoric lean times, genetic variant may increase risk of gestational diabetes today

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6:16pm, February 7, 2011

A genetic variation that may increase a woman’s risk of gestational diabetes is widespread today because it was actually beneficial to early agricultural populations, a new study suggests.

Pregnant women who carry two copies of a low-activity form of the gene GIP have higher blood-glucose levels — a marker of gestational diabetes risk — Sheau Yu Teddy Hsu of Stanford University and colleagues report online February 7 in Diabetes. But when the gene’s low-activity version arose somewhere in Eurasia an estimated 8,100 years ago, that same glucose-boosting quality may have helped women maintain their pregnancies during lean times.

The new work takes an important step toward characterizing how one particular form of a gene shapes physiology and how evolution may act on that gene, says Joshua Akey, an evolutionary biologist and population geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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