Genetic research in Africa takes a major step forward

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Researchers from the African Genome Variation Project (AGVP) have published the first attempt to comprehensively characterise genetic diversity across sub-Saharan Africa.

The study of the world’s most genetically diverse region will provide an invaluable resource for medical researchers and provides insights into population movements over thousands of years of African history. These findings appear in the journal Nature.

‘Although many studies have focused on studying genetic risk factors for disease in European populations, this is an understudied area in Africa,’ says Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, lead author on the study and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. ‘Infectious and non-infectious diseases are highly prevalent in Africa and the risk factors for these diseases may be very different from those in European populations’.

‘Given the evolutionary history of many African populations, we expect them to be genetically more diverse than Europeans and other populations. However we know little about the nature and extent of this diversity and we need to understand this to identify genetic risk factors for disease.’

Dr. Manjinder Sandhu and colleagues collected genetic data from more than 1800 people – including 320 whole genome sequences from seven populations – to create a detailed characterisation of 18 ethnolinguistic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Genetic samples were collected through partnerships with doctors and researchers in Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.

The AGVP investigators, who are funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Medical Research Council, found 30 million genetic variants in the seven sequenced populations, a fourth of which have not previously been identified in any population group.

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