Zinc’s fingerprint on the human genome

IBE has led a study that has discovered the relationship between low levels of zinc in the soil and a series of adaptations in the genes related to the metabolism of this element.

In some regions such as South Asia and especially India, zinc levels in the soil are very low, which can be a serious nutritional problem. Credit: photo by Pat Whelen inUnsplash .

A recent study led by a team from the Institute for Evolutionary Biology (IBE: CSIC-UPF) has identified a set of changes in the genome linked to a lack of zinc in the diet. These are modifications in the genes responsible for zinc metabolism, which could lead to an increased susceptibility to the development of certain diseases such as cancer, immunodeficiency and diabetes.

Zinc is an essential micronutrient for the proper functioning of our body, as it is involved in functions such as supporting the immune system, cell division and growth, wound healing and carbohydrate metabolism, among others. This micronutrient is only obtained through the diet, so the availability of zinc in the soil has a major impact on health.

In fact, the study found that changes in genes related to zinc metabolism appeared mainly in regions with lower levels of this micronutrient in the soil. Ana Roca-Umbert, first author of the study, notes that “this adaptation has taken place in Indian populations where the soil, and therefore their diet – especially in the past – has been poor in zinc”.

“Our study may help to understand why certain diseases related to zinc metabolism are more prevalent in some populations”

Elena Bosch, study leader (IBE)

The research results open the door to studying variations in genes related to zinc absorption and transport in the body and understanding their impact on health and disease. Elena Bosch, the leading researcher, concludes that “our study may help to understand why certain diseases related to zinc metabolism have a higher incidence in some populations“.

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