Genome research conducted in sub-Saharan Africa

The African Genome Variation Project has involved an international collaboration to map the genomic variation landscape of African populations, including a wide array of ethno-linguistic groups. | Courtesy of the NIH

One of the most genetically diverse regions on the planet, sub-Saharan Africa has had its genome characterized for the the first time, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported on Thursday.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers, including those from the NIH. It looked into what medical conditions affected the ancestry of the region and is one of the first to look at disease risks in sub-Saharan Africa.

With dense genotyping and using the entirety of information from an individual's DNA sequence, scientists are able to find possible connections.

“The rich genomic diversity in sub-Saharan African populations can offer new insights about disease susceptibility that could easily be overlooked using less-tailored analyses,” Dr. Dan Kastner, scientific director of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, said. “This is an important study that demonstrates how a one-size-fits-all approach is not always best when it comes to population genomics.”

The diverse nature of local environmental forces plays a role in the way the genome develops between communities within sub-Saharan Africa. Some of these have given some communities more susceptibility to diseases such as malaria, trypanosomiasis and Lassa fever.

Through the scanning of multiple genome samples, scientists can find markers that can help identify what in the DNA sequence can lead to proclivity of disease.

Despite the region's genetic diversity, African DNA is underrepresented in international genomic research. This study collected DNA sequences from more than 1,400 individuals from 18 ethno-linguistic groups in seven countries.

The full study can be found online in Wednesday's issue of "Nature."


Organizations in this story

National Institutes of Health 9000 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20892

Get notified the next time we write about National Institutes of Health!