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Changes in DNA discovered

7th March 2006

08032006_dna_helix.jpgIn a detailed study scientists have spotted signs of recent evolution in the human genetic code, suggesting that diet and changes in habitat have had a lasting effect on our make-up.

In the study, appearing in the online journal the Public Library of Science Biology, researchers discovered more than 700 tweaks to genes they believe have arisen in the past 5,000 to 10,000 years, a period of time that saw humans spread north from equatorial regions and develop agriculture as a means of securing food.

Among the most striking changes is the emergence of a gene now found in 90% of Europeans that allows them to digest milk into adulthood, a likely consequence of dairy farming. The gene will probably be found in everyone in a further 1,000 years, the researchers say. Jonathan Pritchard, of the University of Chicago, examined data from 209 unrelated people from East Asia, Europe and Nigeria.

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