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DNA study: Jomon woman could tolerate fatty foods, alcohol


Researchers who decoded the entire genome of a woman who lived in Hokkaido 3,800 years ago said she was well-adapted to a diet rich in fat and had a high tolerance for alcohol.

DNA study: Jomon woman could tolerate fatty foods, alcohol
A molar of a Jomon woman was used to decode her entire genome
[Credit: National Museum of Nature and Science]
The project team, including scientists from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo’s Ueno district, also said on May 13 that the woman’s genetic makeup had many similarities to people who live in the Arctic.

The woman lived on Rebunto island off the northern tip of Hokkaido during the Jomon Pottery Culture Period (c. 8000 B.C.-300 B.C.).

Her skeletal remains, including her skull, were unearthed at the Funadomari historic site on the island.


Using DNA collected from her molar, the project team on March 12, 2018, showed a reconstructed face of the Jomon woman with light brown eyes, frizzy hair, dark skin and freckles.

The decoding of the genome now shows how she likely lived.

“This data can be reference material for every genome study on ancient people,” said Hideaki Kanzawa, a specialist in biological anthropology at the National Museum of Nature and Science, who heads the team. “It will also be critical in understanding the origins of hereditary diseases seen in modern humans.”

According to the team, the Jomon woman had a genetic mutation that can easily break down fat.

DNA study: Jomon woman could tolerate fatty foods, alcohol
A reconstructed head of a Jomon woman based on her skull and genetic information
[Credit: National Museum of Nature and Science]
Bones of marine animals were discovered at the Funadomari historic site, indicating that she fed on sea lions and other large creatures that were hunted by her group. The genetic mutation would have metabolized such fat-rich food, preventing her from becoming ill or sick to her stomach, the team said.

According to the study, this genetic characteristic has been seen in 70 percent of people who live in the Arctic, such as the Inuit.

But the mutation is rarely found among current Japanese who no longer need to hunt for their food.

When the Jomon woman was alive, agriculture had started in China but those in Japan still relied largely on hunting for nourishment.


The team also said her genes showed she would have been a strong drinker and had a wet type of earwax.

With her low variety of genes, the team estimated that Jomon people continued living in small groups for about 50,000 years.

They said the study showed that Jomon people were genetically similar to current South Koreans, Filipinos and indigenous people in Taiwan.

Author: Roku Goda | Source: The Asahi Shimbun [May 14, 2019]

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