Research Digest

Lab notes: Scientists identify a gene that puts Indians at higher risk of heart disease

Carriers of the gene have been found to have higher plasma glucose, blood pressure and body mass index.

About 35% to 40% Indians carry a set of genetic variations that puts them at higher risk of heart disease, finds a new study.

A team of Indian researchers has discovered that carriers of a set of genetic variants in the Chromogranin A gene called CHGA promoter haplotype 2 may be at higher risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. The study is based on analysis of genomic DNA samples from over 750 individuals from Indian population. The research findings have been published in Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Though the CHGA promoter haplotype is present in other ethnic populations, it occurs more frequently in populations of South Asian ancestry.

“It is a protein of neuroendocrine origin and is secreted along with hormones like catecholamines,” said Lakshmi Subramanian, first author of this paper. “Earlier studies had suggested its role in regulation of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases but there was no data about it in South Asian populations.”

Dr Nitish R Mahapatra, professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, who led the study said, “We studied genomic DNA of Indians and discovered a specific set of changes in the CHGA gene sequence called haplotype 2 which contributed to increased CHGA gene expression, and ultimately increased CHGA protein levels in plasma. When the clinical parameters of those in the study were compared, Haplotype 2 carriers displayed higher levels of metabolic and cardiovascular traits like plasma glucose, blood pressure and body mass index.”

However, he said, these results need further validation in animal models as well as large-scale studies in individuals with metabolic syndrome. “We hope these findings would help unravel biological pathways and mechanisms underlying these complex diseases and would help in the development of therapeutic as well as preventive strategies,” said Dr Mahapatra.

“Basic research in cardiovascular biology is in a very nascent stage in India with only a handful of researchers working in this field. This new study significantly contributes towards understanding molecular basis of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. This is a fast emerging area with tremendous therapeutic and diagnostic potential,” commented Dr Shyamal K Goswami, a professor at School of Life Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who is not connected with the study.

The study was led by Dr Nitish R Mahapatra at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in a collaborative effort with Dr Ajit S Mullasari at Madras Medical Mission, and Dr Madhu Khullar at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh.

This article was first published by India Science Wire.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.