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January 09, 2004

Breaking news! Human populations differ genetically!!!

Nicholas Wade is a great journalist, and slowly he is pushing the wedge of acceptable discourse into uncharted territory. I would bet money that he talked to Vincent Sarich or read some of his work for this new article, titled Ice Age Ancestry May Keep Body Warmer and Healthier, because the emphasis on adaptation after the Out-of-Africa radiation is something Sarich puts special focus on. The money shot:

A team of California geneticists has found that many of the world's peoples are genetically adapted to the cold because their ancestors lived in northern climates during the Ice Age. The genetic change affects basic body metabolism and may influence susceptibility to disease and to the risks of the calorie-laden modern diet.

The finding also breaks ground in showing that the human population has continued to adapt to forces of natural selection since the dispersal from its ancestral homeland in Africa some 50,000 years ago.

I think the next logical step is to begin to explore selective effects on the genome dependent on the transition to high density living concomitant with the transition to agriculture in most of the world's populations. Matt Ridley in his most recent book made some references to this topic, so I suspect there are researchers out there he is in touch with who are looking at differences between populations with a history of high density vs. those that remained at the hunter-gatherer stage longer.

NPR's Morning Edition for January 9th has a piece interviewing the researcher profiled by Wade . The abstract can be found on the ssslllooowww Science site.

Posted by razib at 01:35 AM