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First Ever Human Genomics study for Fiji Islands

Artika Nath
Sunday, December 30, 2012

A research study conducted with one the leading universities in the USA, Georgia Tech reveals that lifestyle has an effect on people's immune systems, depending on whether they live in urban or rural Fiji.

The research was led by a Fulbright scholar and FNU lecturer, Artika Nath who is a graduate student in genetics at Georgia Tech, under the supervision of leading human geneticist, Professor Greg Gibson. They also found that the biological differences in rural Indians are much greater than that of the rural Fijians and Urban Indians and Fijians.

These findings have important implications for Fiji because diet and urbanization are closely related to the high prevalence of obesity-related diseases. There has been a radical dietary shift from consumption of traditional food such as root crops, vegetables, and seafood, to western diets that are high in refined sugars and fats. In addition, nearly 52 per cent of people live in urban centers.

Less physical activity coupled with more obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease is becoming a burden particularly in the cities.

DNA is like a cook book which contains all the information to make an individual. The ingredients in the genetic cookbook are called genes, and when a gene recipe is being used it makes something called messenger RNA (mRNA). Just how the ingredients are used together to make a recipe can be seen by measuring the amount of each mRNA. To see whether lifestyle changes these genetic recipes, Artika Nath measured 96 mRNA ingredients in blood samples from people all over Fiji, using a brand new nanotechnology called Fluidigm quantitative RT-PCR.

Most of the differences in rural Indians are involved in inflammatory and anti-viral responses suggesting that their immune systems are less active. Professor Gibson's group had previously shown a similar result in southern Morocco, where rural Amazigh Berbers are also different from their urban companions. The researchers speculate that different recipes might also be found in other parts of the body, and that part of the reason is that Indian villagers have retained their mostly vegetarian diet, use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil in their cooking. Further research will investigate whether such differences explain the so-called epidemiological transition to Western diseases.

The study gives insight into how genetics and lifestyle work together to influence the epidemiology of disease. Such knowledge could be helpful in guiding public health policy and find effective solutions for disease prevention.

The finding of this study was published on November 9 in Frontiers in Genetics.

Nath AP, Arafat D and Gibson G (2012) Using blood informative transcripts in geographical genomics: impact of lifestyle on gene expression in Fijians. Front. Gene. 3:243. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2012.00243

A big vinaka vaka levu to the study participants and the zone nurses and health workers who assisted in sample collection in the rural villages. The Colonial War memorial Hospital, Suva, Fiji for giving access to blood donors and the Ministry of Health for supporting the study.

Artika Nath is a lecturer in biochemistry and genetics at the College of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences (CMNHS)-Fiji National University. She is a recipient of the 2011 prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to USA where she is currently finishing up her postgraduate studies at Georgia Tech.

Correspondence: Artika Nath. Email or

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