A gene variant that may up the risk of diabetes in Latin Americans appears to
have been inherited from Neanderthals, a study suggests.
Modern humans interbred with a population of Neanderthals shortly after leaving
Africa 60,000-70,000 years ago, leaving a legacy of Neanderthal genes in the
genomes of all non-African living today, they said.
A genomic study by U.S. and Mexican researchers of more than 8,000 Mexicans and
other Latin Americans found the higher risk form of the gene exists in up to
half of people with recent Native American ancestry including Latin Americans, a
release from the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research center in
Massachusetts, said Thursday.
The gene variant is found less often in East Asians and is rare in populations
from Europe and Africa, the researchers said.
People who carry the higher risk version of the gene are 25 percent more likely
to have diabetes than those who do not, and people who inherited copies from
both parents are 50 percent more likely to have diabetes, they said.
"To date, genetic studies have largely used samples from people of European or
Asian ancestry, which makes it possible to miss culprit genes that are altered
at different frequencies in other populations," Broad Institute researcher Jose
"By expanding our search to include samples from Mexico and Latin America, we've
found one of the strongest genetic risk factors discovered to date, which could
illuminate new pathways to target with drugs and a deeper understanding of the
Inheriting a gene from Neanderthal ancestors is actually not uncommon, the
researchers said; about 1 to 2 percent of the sequences present in all modern
day humans outside of Africa were inherited from Neanderthals.