Genes that helped our Arabian ancestors to survive could now be killing us

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The groundbreaking study by Prof. Fahd Al-Mulla (L), DDI’s chief scientific officer and senior author of the study and Dr. Eaaswar Muthukrishna, a genetics and bioinformatics expert at DDI, was published in the Oxford Genome Biology and Evolution journal. (Supplied)
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Dasman Diabetes Institute (DDI) is a Kuwaiti-based medical research center which works to prevent and treat diabetes and related conditions in Kuwait through various research, training, education and health promotion programs. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Genes that helped our Arabian ancestors to survive could now be killing us

  • Researchers find genetic traits that evolved to cope with extreme heat and scarce food are dangerous when we have plenty to eat and air conditioning
  • When combined with increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the adaptations increase risk of obesity and metabolic disorders such as diabetes

LONDON: Researchers in Kuwait have identified a section of DNA that once helped nomadic inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula survive the harsh conditions there, but now is believed to be partly responsible for high rates of diabetes and obesity across the Middle East.
The research suggests that lack of exercise and a bad diet are not the only reasons for the prevalence of metabolic disorders in the region — genetic factors also play a part.
The study, by the Dasman Diabetes Institute (DDI) in Kuwait, examined more than 600,000 genetic variations in the DNA of hundreds of Kuwaitis. The scientists found multiple areas of DNA associated with health problems, such as hypertension and diabetes, that had evolved over generations.
The findings, recently published in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal, lead the researchers to believe that a genetic adaption that helped the Kuwaitis’ ancestors survive as hunter gatherers in the extreme desert environment is now partly responsible for a health crisis in modern populations.
“The theory was that there must be something very different in the genetic makeup that protected (the ancestors) from the weather, a lack of food and made their metabolism extremely low,” said Prof. Fahd Al-Mulla, DDI’s chief scientific officer and senior author of the study.




Dasman Diabetes Institute (DDI) is a Kuwaiti-based medical research center which works to prevent and treat diabetes and related conditions in Kuwait through various research, training, education and health promotion programs. (Supplied)

“This is fine if you live in hot weather and if you do not have a lot of food but this gene becomes a killer if you have plenty of food to eat, you sit in the air conditioning, and you change your environment.”
The genetic variations highlighted by the study were found in and around the TNKS gene, which is associated with hypertension, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Kuwait has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world; about 40 percent of the population is overweight. Other Gulf countries are not far behind, and their populations are plagued by rising levels of associated disorders, including diabetes and hypertension.
While modern sedentary lifestyles are often blamed for this, and clearly are a factor, the study uncovers the detrimental effects of ancestral genetic adaptation on the health of present-day Kuwaitis.
“Our research spots the regions of the genome that might have induced active metabolism and hypertension in nomadic Kuwaiti forefathers, which may favor survival in harsh environments,” said Dr. Eaaswar Muthukrishna, a genetics and bioinformatics expert at DDI.
He added that the study was the first “comprehensive analysis to detect natural selection in the Arabian Peninsula’s population.”
Al-Mulla said the discovery was important not only for raising awareness of the health risks, but also to help identify vulnerable children and advise their parents on how to ensure they do not overeat and increase the chances of developing metabolic disorders.
Along with sounding a health alert for modern populations, the research also sheds light on migration and environmental changes in the region.

“The Arabian Peninsula has experienced several waves of migrations, despite its extreme and varying environmental conditions,” the authors of the study note. “And these inhabitants eventually adapted to the hot and dry environment.
“Archaeological evidence suggests the Arabian Peninsula played a key role during the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa….therefore, the resident populations have a long and complex evolutionary history.”
Most of the ancestors of modern-day Kuwaitis were early settlers that migrated from Saudi Arabia and depended on fishing, pearl diving and seafaring as their main sources of income.
“Our previous studies revealed that the genetic structure of the Kuwait population is heterogeneous (diverse), comprising three distinct ancestral genetic backgrounds that could be linked roughly to contemporary Saudi Arabian, Persian and Bedouin populations,” according to the study.
Muthukrishna said the team is expanding its study to examine Arabian populations in Oman, Yemen, and the UAE.
“We are analyzing those data sets to see what is the pattern that exists in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said, adding that the study, which is underway, will also dig deeper into the Saudi population.


Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

We speak to a hair expert on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care. (File/Instagram)
Updated 30 March 2020

Missing your salon? How to care for your hair while you #StayHome

DUBAI: As salon-goers face the closure of spas, salons and barbershops, we speak to Haneen Odeh, founder of UAE’s Snob salon for her take on the dos and don’ts of at-home hair care.

Many men and women who rely on salon visits to keep their lengths healthy could be left wondering what to do between now and their next visit to a professional hair stylist. But just as important is what not to do (read: DIY trim job) to avoid ruining your hair and having to impose your own personal period of self-isolation once the pandemic is over due to a ruined haircut you tried to pull off in the bathroom mirror.

Don’t bleach your own hair
“For those who usually go to the salon to dye their lengths blonde, roots may be starting to show now. And while it might be tempting, I would strongly urge to not bleach your own roots. Lightening dark hair is a very complex multi-step process that requires years of experience and professional grade products only available at salons. Bleaching your hair incorrectly might result in burning and damaging your hair. Instead, opt for a root spray such as the L'Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up Concealer Spray. Otherwise, you can always conceal your dark roots with a headband or try wrapping your hair up with a scarf.” 

Do deep conditioning treatments
“Use this time to nourish your hair with a deep conditioning treatment. A lot of people simply apply it in the shower on wet hair for a few minutes and call it a day, but that way means that your lengths aren’t getting the full benefits of the product. Think of hair like a sponge, when it’s wet, it’s already full of water and cannot absorb anything more. So to make sure the product is fully absorbed into your locks, towel dry your hair after shampooing and then apply the treatment. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes and then rinse. You’ll see a huge difference.” May we suggest The Let It Go Circle hair mask from Davines, which is designed to boost hydration and revitalize dry and brittle strands?  

Don’t pick up the scissors
“When you’re bored, it might be tempting to pick up the scissors but, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t trim your own bangs or make any big changes to your hair cut on your own. It will inevitably go wrong and you will end up paying more to get it fixed in the long run. Try out some new hairstyles instead. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube so experiment a little and get your hair professionally cut once it’s safe to do so.”

 Don’t over wash
“The more you wash your strands, the more you strip the scalp of its natural oils, and that in turn makes the scalp produce even more oil, which causes you to wash your hair more often — and the cycle goes on and on. Now is the perfect opportunity to give your lengths a break and cut down on the washing. Your hair might get oily, but once the adjustment period is over, you will notice that it will require less frequent washing.”

Do try scalp treatments
“Too often, we pay attention to the lengths of our hair and give our scalp no attention. But caring for your scalp improves the overall health of your tresses, stimulates hair growth and gets rid of dandruff due to product buildup. Scalp treatments range from serums to salt scrubs, so pick a product that suits your hair needs. Le Labo's basil-scented Scrub Shampoo uses black sea salt and menthol to clear away dirt and cool scalps down.”