In Iceland, treasure chest of genetic information may help find cures

Scientists in Iceland have produced an unprecedented snapshot of a nation’s genetic makeup, discovering a host of previously unknown gene mutations that may play roles in ailments as diverse as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and gallstones.

“This is amazing work, there’s no question about it,” said Daniel G. MacArthur, a geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not involved in the research. “They’ve now managed to get more genetic data on a much larger chunk of the population than in any other country in the world.”

In a series of papers in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers at Decode, an Icelandic genetics firm owned by Amgen, described sequencing the genomes — the complete DNA — of 2,636 Icelanders, the largest collection ever analyzed in a single human population.

With this trove of genetic information, the scientists were able to accurately infer the genomes of more than 100,000 other Icelanders, or almost a third of the entire country.

While some diseases, like cystic fibrosis, are caused by a single genetic mutation, the most common ones are not. Instead, mutations to a number of different genes can each raise the risk of getting, say, heart disease or breast cancer. Discovering these mutations can shed light on these diseases and point to potential treatments. But many of them are rare, making it necessary to search large groups of people to find them.

The wealth of data created in Iceland may enable scientists to begin doing that.

Read full, original article: In Iceland’s DNA, New Clues to Disease-Causing Genes

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