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Why these Greek villagers live longer lives


There’s a reason why people living in isolated Greek villages can eat saturated fats and still live long, healthy lives — they have special genes that protect their tickers, according to a new study.

Residents of Mylopotamos — a municipality in northern Crete comprised of several villages — are known for their long lives, despite their fondness for local cheese and lamb, but they don’t generally succumb to the strokes and heart attacks that plague much of the Western world.

To find out why, researchers drew blood from 250 villagers, examined their DNA and found a genetic variant — which appears to shield the villagers’ hearts by decreasing levels of “bad” fats and cholesterol, according to research published by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The variant is unique among the villagers of Zoniana and Anogia.

After testing the genomes of thousands of Europeans, scientists were able to find only one other person who had the same variant– an individual in Tuscany, Italy.

Researchers are still not sure why the variant exists; it might be influenced by the villagers’ lifestyle, their environment or simply be a genetic mutation passed down from generation to generation and kept isolated within the population, which rarely moves in or out of the villages.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers hope it can help scientists discover which genetics play a role in causing disease and why some people develop heart disease when others don’t.

“By studying isolated populations, we are able to identify those genetic variants that are at a higher frequency compared to cosmopolitan populations and this in turn increases our power to detect if these variants are disease causing,” Lorraine Southam, a researcher on the project said.

“With isolated populations, we can get a unique view into rare genetic variants that play important roles in complex human diseases.”

Professor Eleftheria Zeggini, the lead author on the project, said this study points to the importance of examining the entire human genome, rather than individual pieces because it can help scientists to understand the “genetic architecture of a population.”

“We are finding new genetic variants we haven’t seen before. We have discovered a medically relevant genetic variant for traits relation to cardiovascular disease, the most common cause of death worldwide.”

Scientists are now examining different isolated populations, such as the Amish and the Inuit, to see if isolation plays a role in keeping people healthy.


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