People living on Norfolk Island, an isolated community located 1500 kilometres east of Australia, are helping scientists look for genes that predispose to heart disease. A team of Australian geneticists is currently collecting DNA samples from the islanders, reported New Scientist last week. Most of the island's population is descended from British mutineers who seized the Bounty in 1789.
The sailors, along with several women from Tahiti, originally settled on Pitcairn Island. Their descendants moved to Norfolk Island in 1856. 'Here we have people of mixed Tahitian-English origins' explained Lyn Griffiths, the research team leader. She said that people of Polynesian descent 'tend to run a high level of cardiovascular disease', while the islanders' 'old English' diet may also contribute to their risk. 'Many are keen on fried foods and additional cream' she added.
As well as its increased rate of cardiovascular disease, another reason for carrying out the study on Norfolk Island is that there are fewer environmental differences (such as diet and water supply) to blur genetic studies, says Griffiths.
In return for DNA samples from as many of the 900 permanent adult residents as possible, Griffith's team will help plan an improved health strategy for the island. The islanders will also share in any profits from the research.