Almost a decade after the first human genome was published, famed anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu and three African bushmen became the first sub-saharan Africans to have their genes fully decoded. The work aimed to further decipher the full spectrum of human genetic diversity and the role that genes play in health.
But that study was published in 2010. While the pace of genetic research has exploded around the world since then, few Africans have joined Tutu’s ranks. According to Dartmouth University postdoctoral researcher Geoffrey Siwo, less than 10 percent of all genetic data available in the world today is from African populations.
To Siwo, a native of Kenya, that statistic reflects a large gap in the world’s medical knowledge. Not only does it mean that less life-saving biomedical research is focused on African health, it also means that the global research community is missing out on a major portion of all human variation. Human evolution, after all, began in Africa, resulting in incredibly diverse sets of genes, whereas European and Asian populations all sprung more recently from relatively few common ancestors.
“The difference between the genetics of two individuals who are from Africa is much greater than the difference between a European and an Asian,” says Siwo. For example, when scientists did those first studies on Tutu and the three others, they discovered 1.3 million genetic variants that had never been seen before. “The big lack of data from African populations has a very huge impact on our understanding of disease in all the world,” he says.
Read full, original article: It’s A Huge, Dangerous Mistake That Africans Are Underrepresented In Genetics Research