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Nonshivering Thermogenesis: How to Survive a Siberian Winter

February 25, 2013

Siberia may not be everyone’s idea of a tourist destination, but it has been home to humans for tens of thousands of years. Now a new study of indigenous Siberian peoples presented here earlier this month at a meeting on human evolution reveals how natural selection helped people adapt to the frigid north. The findings also show that different living populations adapted in somewhat different ways.

Siberia occupies nearly 10% of Earth’s land mass, but today it’s home to only about 0.5% of the world’s population. This is perhaps not surprising, since January temperatures average as low as -25°C. Geneticists have sampled only a few of the region’s nearly one dozen indigenous groups; some, such as the 2000-member Teleuts, descendants of a once powerful group of horse and cattle breeders also known for their skill in making leather goods, are in danger of disappearing.

Previous research on cold adaptation included two Siberian populations and implicated a couple of related genes. For example, genes called UCP1 and UCP3 tend to be found in more active forms in populations that live in colder climes, according to work published in 2010 by University of Chicago geneticist Anna Di Rienzo and her colleagues. These genes help the body’s fat stores directly produce heat rather than producing chemical energy for muscle movements or brain functions, a process called “nonshivering thermogenesis.”

Excerpt from an article written by Michael Balter on Science NOW. Continue HERE

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