Are you able to eat whatever you want without gaining weight or do you gain weight just by looking at food?
According to a new study at The University College London, that depends on one particular gene, which has evolved in different ways over the years.
An old gene mutation, which has manifested itself in our body since the rise of cooking and agriculture, could protect us against high blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes.
A team of researchers at the college discovered this while studying the so-called CLTCL1- gene.
This is nowadays strongly involved in the production of a protein that ‘transports’ sugars from the blood, so that it is stored in fat and muscle cells.
“After hunting, people started cooking and doing agriculture. That meant that more sugar ended up in our diet. The result was that we had to learn to process the sugar faster. A mutant form of the gene succeeds well in this, while the ‘normal’ version of the gene just retained carbohydrates in the blood,” says lead researcher and biochemist Frances Brodsky.
The researchers state, on the basis of DNA analyzes from our ancestors and 2,500 people who are currently alive, that the modern gene is found in about half the world’s population.
The mutation allows some of us to eat starchy and sweet foods such as wheat and rice without gaining too much weight, while others gain weight faster with the original version of the gene.
“The older version of this genetic variant likely would have been helpful to our ancestors as it would have helped maintain higher levels of blood sugar during periods of fasting, in times when we didn’t have such easy access to carbohydrates, and this would have helped us evolve our large brains,” says Dr Matteo Fumagalli, who began the study at UCL before moving to Imperial College London.
“People with the older variant may need to be more careful of their carb intake, but more research is needed to understand how the genetic variant we found can impact our physiology,”, adds Dr. Brodsky.