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Journal Article

Genomic adaptations to cereal-based diets contribute to mitigate metabolic risk in some human populations of East Asian ancestry


Gnecchi-Ruscone,  Guido Alberto
MHAAM, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Landini, A., Yu, S., Gnecchi-Ruscone, G. A., Abondio, P., Ojeda-Granados, C., Sarno, S., et al. (2021). Genomic adaptations to cereal-based diets contribute to mitigate metabolic risk in some human populations of East Asian ancestry. Evolutionary Applications, 14(2): 13090, pp. 297-313. doi:10.1111/eva.13090.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-D834-C
Abstract Adoption of diets based on some cereals, especially on rice, signified an iconic change in nutritional habits for many Asian populations and a relevant challenge for their capability to maintain glucose homeostasis. Indeed, rice shows the highest carbohydrates content and glycaemic index among the domesticated cereals and its usual ingestion represents a potential risk factor for developing insulin resistance and related metabolic diseases. Nevertheless, type 2 diabetes and obesity epidemiological patterns differ among Asian populations that rely on rice as a staple food, with higher diabetes prevalence and increased levels of central adiposity observed in people of South Asian ancestry rather than in East Asians. This may be at least partly due to the fact that populations from East Asian regions where wild rice or other cereals such as millet have been already consumed before their cultivation and/or were early domesticated have relied on these nutritional resources for a period long enough to have possibly evolved biological adaptations that counteract their detrimental side effects. To test such a hypothesis, we compared adaptive evolution of these populations with that of control groups from regions where the adoption of cereal-based diets occurred many thousand years later and which were identified from a genome-wide dataset including 2,379 individuals from 124 East Asian and South Asian populations. This revealed selective sweeps and polygenic adaptive mechanisms affecting functional pathways involved in fatty acids metabolism, cholesterol/triglycerides biosynthesis from carbohydrates, regulation of glucose homeostasis and production of retinoic acid in Chinese Han and Tujia ethnic groups, as well as in people of Korean and Japanese ancestry. Accordingly, long-standing rice- and/or millet-based diets have possibly contributed to trigger the evolution of such biological adaptations, which might represent one of the factors that play a role in mitigating the metabolic risk of these East Asian populations.