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Genetics: Scientists seek diversity in genome study subjects

July 13, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • A scientist in Hamburg, Germany, examines the decoded genome of the E. Coli bacterium. A team writing in the journal Nature explains why researchers looking at the human genome for clues about disease risk need to examine subjects of many ethnic and racial backgrounds.
A scientist in Hamburg, Germany, examines the decoded genome of the E. Coli… (Marcus Brandt / EPA )

Genomics research, in which researchers scan subjects' DNA in search of the genetic basis of many diseases, has focused too narrowly on studying subjects of European descent, write a team of genetics experts in the journal Nature this week.

The Los Angeles Times spoke with one of the authors of the piece, Stanford population geneticist and 2010 MacArthur Fellow Carlos D. Bustamante, about why scientists should focus on sequencing genomes of people from other ethnic groups, too.

What got you interested in this problem?
This commentary stems from conversations [coauthors] Esteban [Gonzalez Burchard], Francisco [De La Vega] and I have been having over the past couple of years.  How do we think about taking a lot of what’s been in development in European populations and apply it to other populations?

Genome-wide association studies -- when you go out and take individuals with a disease and those without and find genetic changes that predict who is in which group -- have been very successful.  The vast majority of those studies have been conducted with subjects of European descent.

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