BEIJING, May 9（Xinhuanet) -- Polar bears may hold the answer to the obesity crisis in their genes, according to a recent research.
The search of the animal’s DNA revealed they are uniquely evolved to cope with a high fat diet. Now scientists believe they know the polar bear’s secret - several mutated genes involved in fatty acid metabolism and cardiovascular function. One gene, known as APOB, plays a role in moving cholesterol from the bloodstream into cells, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
Danish co-author Dr Eske Willerslev, from the University of Copenhagen, said: ‘Such a drastic genetic response to chronically elevated levels of fat and cholesterol in the diet has not previously been reported.‘It certainly encourages a move beyond the standard model organisms in our search for the underlying genetic causes of human cardiovascular disease.’
The research involved sequencing and analyzing the complete genomes, or genetic codes, of 79 polar bears from Greenland and 10 brown bears from around the world.
It comes at a time when the polar bear population - estimated at no more than 20,000 to 25,000 - is declining and the animal’s habitat, Arctic sea ice, rapidly vanishing.
As higher latitudes warm, brown bears are moving further north and occasionally interbreeding with their distant Arctic cousins.
The animals’ ability to interbreed is the result of a genetic relationship a tenth of the distance between humans and chimpanzees, the scientists said. ”All the unique adaptations polar bears have to the Arctic environment must have evolved in a very short amount of time.”
“These adaptations include not only a change from brown to white fur and development of a sleeker body, but big physiological and metabolic changes as well.‘There has been a lot of debate about it, but I think we really nailed down what the divergence time is between them, and it is surprisingly recent.”