Genetic protection against arsenic

October 16, 2012, Lund University

Evolution has not only controlled human development over millions of years, it also has an impact on modern man. This is one of the conclusions of a study of Argentinian villagers in the Andes, where the water contains high levels of arsenic. A gene variant that produces efficient and less toxic metabolism of arsenic in the body was much more common among the villagers than among other indigenous groups in South or Central America. The study was a collaborative effort by Karin Broberg from Lund University and Carina Schlebusch and Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University in Sweden.

"We know that many bacteria and plants have genes that increase resistance to arsenic, a highly that is found in soil and water in many parts of the world. There has been no previous research on whether the people in these regions also have protective genes against arsenic", says Karin Broberg.

High levels of arsenic in drinking water are linked to a range of health problems. Increased child morbidity and an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes are some examples.

In many places this is a relatively new problem, for example in Bangladesh, where it arose in connection with new drilled wells. In the Andes, however, people have lived with drinking water containing arsenic for thousands of years, owing partly to high levels of the toxic substance in the bedrock and partly to consequences of mining since the pre-colonial era. Even 7 000-year-old mummies from northern Chile have been found to have high levels of arsenic in their hair and . Occupational and environmental medicine researcher Karin Broberg has been studying the of metals in the Andes for a long time.

"We found that the people up in the mountains in Argentina had unusually efficient metabolism of arsenic. This meant that the toxin left the body rapidly and less toxically instead of accumulating in tissue", she explains.

In the newly published study, the researchers have studied the genes of Atacameño Indian villagers in San Antonio de los Cobres in Argentina, who have lived in the area for multiple generations. Their genes were compared with those of various indigenous and Mestizo groups from Peru and indigenous groups from Colombia and Mexico. Over two thirds of the Argentinian villagers were found to carry a that accelerates the metabolism of , compared with half of the Peruvian villagers and only 14 per cent of the other .

There has been very little previous research on human evolutionary adaptation to environmental toxins. However, it is known that many of the genes that control the metabolism of poisons in the body have a large number of variants that occur with varying prevalence around the world. There may therefore be different adaptations among different populations, depending on what toxins they are exposed to in the local environment, according to Karin Broberg.

Explore further: What you eat can prevent arsenic overload

More information: The study has been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, see ehp.niehs.nih.gov/2012/10/poss … haplotype-in-humans/

Related Stories

What you eat can prevent arsenic overload

June 28, 2012
Millions of people worldwide are exposed to arsenic from contaminated water, and we are all exposed to arsenic via the food we eat. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Nutrition Journal has demonstrated ...

Arsenic for better drugs and cleaner crops

June 25, 2012
Research carried out at the University of Gothenburg may lead to more effective arsenic-containing drugs. The results may also lead to more resistant plants, and crops with a limited absorption and storage of arsenic.

Scientists explore molecular link between arsenic exposure and lung cancer

July 25, 2012
Arsenic is a natural element in the environment, sometimes found in air, soil and water. Arsenic contaminated water is a global threat, currently affecting more than 100 million people. Both genetic and epigenetic changes ...

Recommended for you

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.