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Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

Posted January 06, 2017 4:00 PM by MaggieMc
Pathfinder Tags: cold genetics winter

This holiday season I received no less than five sweaters, one space heater, a fleece lined sweatshirt, and one wonderful electric blanket. Why? It’s very well known that I’m constantly freezing. My teeth have even been known to chatter at the balmy 60 F, the same threshold at which my mother allowed my brothers to wear shorts while we waited for the school bus as kids.

A study published recently revealed something I’m clearly missing: a cold-tolerant gene. This gene variant, possessed by the Inuit, Native Americans, and some Siberians, is thought to cause “a certain type of body fat known as ‘brown fat’ to generate heat,” in addition to being involved in other traits like body fat distribution, bone, and facial structure.

This gene variant is very similar to a gene sequence found in the Denisovans (“extinct humans who once ranged from Siberia to the Southeast”). An earlier discovery had proposed that the Tibetans had also inherited a variant from the Denisovans, which allowed them “to use oxygen efficiently when the air is thin at high altitudes.”

Prior to this study, it had been recognized that one of the clusters of genes involved in cold tolerance was “significantly associated with different phenotypes including fatty acid profiles, weight, and height.” That had been notable, when considering cold-tolerance, because “short, stocky stature was an evolutionary adaption for cold weather since it consolidated heat.” Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be consolidating heat that way.

Another factor working against me is that women seem to feel cold more often than men (this comic by Blue Chair notwithstanding). Many people have observed anecdotal evidence for this, but researchers also found that women tended to possess higher core temperatures, but have consistently colder hands and feet—possibly leaving them feeling colder.

All in all, it looks as though I’m going to continue shivering, but at least now I have some answers.

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#1

Re: Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

01/06/2017 7:48 PM

Naturally low blood pressure has been correlated with feeling cold all the time as well.

Other than that a lot of it comes down to simple basic tolerance conditioning.

Every fall for the first week or two of sub freezing weather I feel cold being outside for any length of time but by this time of year being out in - 10 F weather without heavy winter gear or even a hood on for a hour or so isn't the least bit of a bother if the wind isn't blowing.

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#5
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Re: Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

01/07/2017 10:33 AM

Agreed! Tolerance building is definitely a key. Do Eskimos complain much of the cold ?

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#2

Re: Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

01/06/2017 9:26 PM

My cold-intolerant genes always feel so much better when I put them on straight out of the dryer.

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#3

Re: Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

01/07/2017 12:00 AM

As seen in the picture i would gladly trade a day being cold in exchange for a beautiful coat.

A. Is, " and was likely introgressed from an archaic population ", a fact or a guess ?

B. Has there been any modern interbreeding that has conferred useful traits into humans ?

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#4

Re: Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

01/07/2017 10:15 AM

There is a reason I live in the desert. I can't stand the cold, and I don't feel the slightest need to pretend otherwise.

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#6
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Re: Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

01/08/2017 11:44 AM

There is a reason I live in the foothills/mountains. I can't stand the heat, and I don't feel the slightest need to pretend otherwise.

Isn't it great that different people prefer different things/conditions? Otherwise we'd all move to the same places...

I do have to admit that it's been over 60 years since I lived where the temperature gets below 0°F...

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#7

Re: Feeling Chilly? It’s in Your Genes.

01/13/2017 2:33 AM

This gene variant is very similar to a gene sequence found in the Denisovans (“extinct humans who once ranged from Siberia to the Southeast”

The Southeast what?

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