Our recent publication in Nature Ecology and Evolution calls for Personalized Nutrition

In our recent publication in Nature Ecology and Evolution, we found that key genes (fatty acid desaturases, FADS) for the biosynthesis of long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids underwent two epochs of positive selection in European history. The first in pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherers (~30,000 – 7,500 years ago) and the second in recent farmers after the Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution (starting ~8,500 years ago).

Consistent with long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids being readily available from animal-based diets, we found that the adaptive alleles in hunter-gatherers diminish their biosynthesis from plant-derived precursors. On the other hand, farmers relied more heavily on plant-based diets that are poor of long-chain fatty acids, and we indeed found that adaptive alleles in farmers enhance the biosynthesis of these fatty acids from precursors (Figure 1). These findings point to the interaction between our diet and our genetics and have a nutrigenomic potential -- making informed, genomic-based decisions regarding one’s optimal diet for improved health.


Figure 1: Hunting-adaptive haplotype increased in frequency before the Neolithic revolution but decreased in frequency afterward, while the trend for farming-adaptive haplotype is opposite. The two haplotypes were defined with alleles of the same variants in FADS genes.


The genomic region with adaptive signals has been associated with over 40 traits in Genome-wide association studies (GWAS). These traits include high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, total cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammatory bowel diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and bipolar disorders. This large number of associated traits further emphasize the clinical significance of this genomic region.

The paper could be found in Nature Ecology and Evolution online, and soon in their July issue. The free full text is available here (read-only) or also from our website.

This study is published on the heels of our recent study that showed similar adaptation of the same genes in South Asians, Africans, and some East Asian populations. That previous study, dubbed the “vegetarian gene” by the general media, has led to many scientific and media reports, sometimes wildly inaccurate. However, for careful and interesting coverage, please check out the News page on our website.

We also published a blog post that shares some of the behind-the-scenes of our research process from this previous paper through the current one.

Scientific writer Krishna Ramanujan at Cornell Chronicle wrote an excellent report about our study, which could be found here