Something in the genetic makeup of Greek villagers protects them from cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease is rare in two remote villages on the Greek island of Crete. Villagers have a diet rich in animal fat, which should cause a variety of health conditions. Consuming foods high in saturated fats raises blood cholesterol levels, which increases the risks of heart disease. People with this diet are prone to suffering heart attacks or strokes.
However, heart disease is extremely rare in the Cretan villages Zoniana and Anogia, where the diet isn't very heart healthy. In fact, the villages' inhabitants live long lives in spite of their diet. Researchers have found that these villagers have a genetic variant that protects their hearts from the effects of bad cholesterol.
A high-fat diet with little health consequences? It's enough to pique scientists' interests. Thus, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute decided to get to the bottom of the mystery. In their study, they discovered a genetic variant that protects against cardiovascular disease.
Perhaps the most interesting tidbit of information is that this genetic variant seems unique to the villagers of Zoniana and Anogia.
Researchers sequenced the entire DNA of 250 inhabitants of the two aforementioned villages. The results of this sequencing helped the researchers gain more insight into the genotype of 3,000 other villagers. The researchers also tested the DNA of thousands of Europeans and found that the genetic variant appeared only in one person outside of the two villages.
There's no certain information yet as to how the genetic variant came to be. For now, researchers think that one of three factors is possibly at play. Lifestyle, environment, or a mutation may have given rise to the genetic variant. Residents of Zoniana and Anogia rarely move out of the villages, which is probably why the genetic variant is unique to this population.
Isolated populations may hold the secret to good health. Studying these populations may help researchers understand why some people develop cardiovascular disease while others don't. Other researchers are also planning on studying other isolated populations to gain more insight into the genetics of health.
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