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Variants to Survive a Long Siege

Having certain gene variants may have helped some residents of Leningrad survive the city's more than two-year long siege during World War II, Science reports.

Researchers led by Oleg Glotov at the Ott Research Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Russia tracked down more than 200 survivors of the siege to test their genes, and they report in the Russian journal Advances in Gerontology that survivors were more likely to possess gene variants linked to economical energy metabolism, according to Science. In particular, survivors were nearly a third more likely to have variants in three metabolism-associated genes — UCP3, PPARA, and PPARD — as compared to controls matched for age and residence, but who did not endure the siege.

German forces surrounded Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, in September 1941 for a siege that lasted 872 days, leading 1.1 million people to starve to death, Science says. At the end of 1941, for about a month, residents were trying to subsist on an average of 200 calories a day, and health records indicate that 90 percent of the population lost weight, with some people losing up to half their body mass, it adds.

Though, Stephen O'Brien, the chief scientific officer of the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics tells Science that the study is "fascinating" and "provocative," he adds that the allele frequencies "are not really overwhelming," saying "[t]hey are more suggestive than anything else."

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