thrifty gene hypothesis

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The proposal that there exist in human populations genes that facilitate the efficient utilization of food and its conversion into stored fat. The bearers of such genes gain weight during periods of plenty, and as a result are more likely to survive periods of famine. Since populations in early stages of human evolution were alternately exposed to unpredictable periods of feast and starvation, thrifty genes were selected and retained in the gene pool. However, in contemporary societies food is usually available in unlimited amounts and life is sedentary; now thrifty genes become deleterious, since they increase susceptibility to the diabetes type 2 family of diseases. The observation that the symptoms of diabetes disappear under conditions of starvation supports this hypothesis. See Chronology, 1962, Neel; diabetes mellitus, obese.

Subjects: Genetics and Genomics.

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