The gene that increases your likelihood to suffer from arthritis could also be the gene that helped humans survive through the Ice Age, scientists have discovered.
In what can only be described as one of the biological world’s greatest double-edged swords, it appears as though evolution both gives and very definitely takes away.
The gene in question causes people to become more compact, a trait that became increasingly common as humans started moving north away from Africa.
By being smaller, the human body has less area to keep warm which in turn helps it survive colder temperatures for longer.
However, scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine discovered that anyone who has this gene is twice as likely to develop arthritis.
“Because it’s been positively selected, this gene variant is present in billions of people,” said David Kingsley, PhD, professor of developmental biology at Stanford.
“So even though it only increases each person’s risk by less than twofold, it’s likely responsible for millions of cases of arthritis around the globe.”
The scientist have theorised that while the gene would have caused similar problems for older humans during that time period it would also have allowed them to survive during their peak reproductive years, thus keeping the human race alive.
While further work is needed to turn many of the team’s theories into fact, what’s clear is that there is a genetic link, the ramifications of which could be considerable.
“The potential medical impact of the finding is very interesting because so many people are affected,” said Kingsley. “This is an incredibly prevalent, and ancient, variant. Many people think of osteoarthritis as a kind of wear-and-tear disease, but there’s clearly a genetic component at work here as well.”