1 in 3,000 people have a gene variant that increases diabetes risk by 6 times

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — Diabetes has many causes, but your genes may be one of the biggest. Now, a new study finds one gene in particular could be the most influential in determining whether someone develops type 2 diabetes.

A team from the University of Cambridge says one in 3,000 people carries this gene variant. Moreover, in comparison to other genes that increase diabetes risk by two times, this variant appears to make someone six times more likely to have trouble controlling their blood sugar.

Using a new scientific approach to read the complete DNA sequences of over 20,000 genes which code proteins in humans, researchers were able to study the impact of rare genetic mutations which cause diseases – including type 2 diabetes. Looking at DNA from more than 200,000 adults in the UK Biobank study, the team discovered a genetic variant connected to the loss of the Y chromosome.

Why is the Y chromosome so important?

Study authors say losing the Y chromosome is a key marker of biological aging in men. It also signals the body’s weakening ability to repair its cells over time. Type 2 diabetes and cancer are both age-related diseases which have a link to this Y chromosome issue.

The new study finds the gene GIGYF1 plays a significant role in how likely people are to lose the Y chromosome. In turn, this also sends their risk of developing type 2 diabetes skyrocketing.

Researchers find around one in 3,000 people carry the GIGYF1 genetic variant, leading to a 30-percent chance they’ll develop type 2 diabetes. For comparison, the general population only has a five percent chance of developing diabetes on average.

“Reading an individual’s DNA is a powerful way of identifying genetic variants that increase our risk of developing certain diseases. For complex diseases such as type 2 diabetes, many variants play a role, but often only increasing our risk by a tiny amount. This particular variant, while rare, has a big impact on an individual’s risk,” says Dr. John Perry in a university release.

Additionally, people who carry the GIGYF1 gene have more signs of aging such as weaker muscle strength and more body fat.

“Our findings highlight the exciting scientific potential of sequencing the genomes of very large numbers of people. We are confident that this approach will bring a rich new era of informative genetic discoveries that will help us better understand common diseases such as type 2 diabetes. By doing this, we can potentially offer better ways to treat – or even to prevent – the condition,” adds Professor Nick Wareham.

The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.