Marrying your first cousin might raise a few eyebrows, but it also comes with some surprising health benefits. A new study suggests that first-cousin marriages could offer some protection against heart disease.

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Scientists from universities worldwide have been working with the Center for Non-Communicable Diseases in Pakistan to collect blood samples from around the country. In a small fishing village on the coast of Pakistan, where first-cousin marriages are common, researchers found a small group of people were missing the APOC3 gene. This gene helps regulate metabolism and lipoproteins associated with heart disease in the body. People who were missing the gene had low triglyceride levels, and did not experience an increase in plasma triglycerides after a fattening meal, which is what usually happens.

“These are the world’s first APOC3 human knockouts that have been identified,” study co-author Dr. Danish Saleheen, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at Penn., said in a statement. “Their genetic makeup has provided unique insights about the biology of APOC3, which may further help in validating APOC3 inhibition as a therapeutic target for cardiometabolic diseases – the leading cause of death globally.

As Science magazine reports, researchers “knock out” or disable the function of genes in mice to learn more about how they function. However, this lab technique can’t just be easily done in humans. The study in Pakistan gives scientists new ways to study genes as they discovered more than 1,800 people with knockout genes.

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In a statement, Dr. Daniel J. Radar, M.D. and Penn. researcher said, “Linking DNA sequencing with deep phenotyping at scale in this population will be an incredible source of new knowledge about how gene alterations influence human health and disease.

The team is using this research to study heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, autism and early-onset Parkinson’s disease, among others.

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