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Testing the thrifty gene hypothesis: the Gly482Ser variant in PPARGC1A is associated with BMI in Tongans


The thrifty gene hypothesis posits that, in populations that experienced periods of feast and famine, natural selection favoured individuals carrying thrifty alleles that promote the storage of fat and energy. Polynesians likely experienced long periods of cold stress and starvation during their settlement of the Pacific and today have high rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2DM), possibly due to past positive selection for thrifty alleles. Alternatively, T2DM risk alleles may simply have drifted to high frequency in Polynesians. To identify thrifty alleles in Polynesians, we previously examined evidence of positive selection on T2DM-associated SNPs and identified a T2DM risk allele at unusually high frequency in Polynesians. We suggested that the risk allele of the Gly482Ser variant in the PPARGC1A gene was driven to high frequency in Polynesians by positive selection and therefore possibly represented a thrifty allele in the Pacific.

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