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How our genes affect the risk of diabetes
An ancient mutation in our body could protect people from high blood sugar and diabetes. The mutation was discovered when a gene called CLTCL1 was examined that is involved in the removal of sugar from the bloodstream.
A recent study by University College London (UCL) found that a mutation can protect people from diabetes. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "eLife".
What is the role of blood sugar?
While a certain amount of blood sugar is needed to provide energy to the brain and other organs, too much sugar in the blood leads to type 2 diabetes. In their research, the researchers found that around half of the world's population has a mutation that helps the body remove sugar from the body more effectively.
When did the mutation of the gene spread?
The mutated form of the gene has been widespread since humans turned to cooking almost half a million years ago, the authors of the study suspect. It could also be possible that the gene was linked to the introduction of agriculture 12,500 years ago. Cooking and agriculture meant more sugar in the food, so it had to be removed more easily in the body. This is an example of the evolution that affects human metabolism and vice versa. By comparing the DNA of humans and various other species, the scientists were able to trace the CLTCL1 gene back almost 500 million years to the time when the first vertebrates with jaws developed.
Since then, several species have lost the gene, including mice, sheep, and pigs, suggesting that the gene is not important for all organisms. The gene was not only preserved in humans, but various forms of it developed. The mutated variant was only widespread after cooking and the introduction of agriculture. In modern carbohydrate-rich forms of nutrition, the mutated form of the gene could be advantageous, the researchers report. When we eat carbohydrates, they are converted to sugar, which circulates in the blood to provide energy, or the sugar is stored as fat.
How does the body process absorbed sugar?
After a meal, the body responds to the increase in blood sugar by opening small pores in the membranes of muscle and fat tissue so that the sugar can penetrate. These openings are created by so-called glucose transporters, which are held between meals by a protein in the tissue, which was produced using the CLTCL1 gene.
We eat too much sugar
In the past, the older form of the gene was useful for humans because the protein it made held glucose transporters firmly in muscle and fat, which meant that blood sugar levels remained high. This was particularly useful when people developed their large and complex brains. Cooking and agriculture made people gradually eat more sugar. This favored the newer mutation, which encodes a protein that less effectively hides glucose transporters in muscle and fat. As a result, more sugar flows into the tissue and the blood sugar level drops.
Genes can indicate a risk of diabetes
Tests on cells showed that the newer variant leads to a more effective removal of sugar from the body. So there is a measurable effect, the authors of the study explain. Knowing which gene variants people carry can help them better understand their risk of type 2 diabetes. People with one or two copies of the older form may need to pay more attention to their carbohydrate intake and would be more likely to develop diabetes. (as)