Scientists trace evolution of lipids in mammalian tissue

Skoltech scientists and German researchers conducted a large-scale collaborative research project to study the fat composition in 6 different tissues of 32 mammalian species. They found that the prevalence and concentration of certain fats in mammalian tissues varies greatly in the course of evolution, with the biggest number of evolution-specific changes occurring in humans. The results of the study were published in the reputable scientific journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Lipids which include fats and a few other fat-like substances perform a variety of important functions in a living organism’s cells, from cell membrane construction to energy storage and, most interestingly, transfer of signals between cells, primarily in the brain.

In contrast to the genetic differences between species that are quite well understood, little is known about the evolutionary changes and trends in the lipid composition in different groups of living organisms. Scientists have long assumed that lipids may be able to provide a wealth of knowledge about human brain evolution and bring humankind one step closer to cracking the mystery of the origin of the human species.

Skoltech researchers conducted extensive bioinformatics analyses of lipids in the tissues of 32 mammalian species, including humans, using tissue samples from the cerebral cortex, kidneys, heart, muscles, liver, and cerebellum.

The study revealed a multitude of species-specific changes in the lipid composition, which are observed in record numbers in humans and localized primarily in the brain.

“Interestingly, the human-specific lipids that we found are involved mainly in the metabolic pathways associated with cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other nervous system disorders. This suggests that these lipids are essential for our cognitive activity, which is exactly what distinguishes our species from others,” says the study’s first author and Skoltech researcher Ekaterina Khrameeva.


Alina Chernova,

Scientific Communications Manager

Phone: +7 905 5653633



The Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) is a private graduate research university. Established in 2011 in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Skoltech cultivates a new generation of researchers and entrepreneurs, promotes advanced scientific knowledge and fosters innovative technology to address critical issues facing Russia and the world in the third millennium. Skoltech applies the best Russian and international research and educational practices, with particular emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation.

Contact information:
Skoltech Communications
+7 (495) 280 14 81

Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on VK