Score one for the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture debate, as North Carolina State University geneticists have shown that environmental factors such as lifestyle and geography play a large role in whether certain genes are turned on or off.
By studying gene expression of white blood cells in 46 Moroccan Amazighs, or Berbers including desert nomads, mountain agrarians and coastal urban dwellers the NC State researchers and collaborators in Morocco and the United States showed that up to one-third of genes are differentially expressed due to where and how the Moroccan Amazighs live.
The research is published in the journal PLoS Genetics.
The NC State researchers, Youssef Idaghdour, an NC State graduate student in genetics and a Fulbright scholar, and Dr. Greg Gibson, formerly William Neal Reynolds Professor of Genetics at NC State and currently a faculty member at the University of Queensland in Australia, set out to study the impact of the transition from traditional to urbanized lifestyles on the human immune system. They used the latest tools for characterizing the sequence and expression of all 23,000 human genes to compare the three Moroccan Amazigh groups. These groups were chosen because they have a similar genetic makeup but lead distinct ways of life and occupy different geographic domains. Thus, differences in gene expression profiles between the three groups would likely be due to environmental and not genetic factors.
The team uncovered specific genes and pathways that are affected by lifestyle and geography. For example, they found respiratory genes were upregulated, or turned on, more frequently in the urban population than in the nomadic or agrarian populations.
This makes sense, Idaghdour says, as urban dwellers deal with greater amounts of pollution in the city and encounter more difficulties with diseases like asthma and bronchitis. So it stands to reason that certain respiratory genes in city
|Contact: Mick Kulikowski|
North Carolina State University