Saturday, February 23, 2008

History in our Genes

Via the Wired Science Blog, I found this story about a study of variations in the human genome among different populations. While this has been done before, the new study shows how much data we can get just by looking at people's genes.

"The novel finding is the depth of the resolution we've gone to," said National Institutes of Health neurogeneticist Andrew Singleton, co-author of one of the papers in Nature. "This really lets you start moving towards locating individuals geographically. Previously, we've been able to look at the genome and say, 'This part is from Africa, this is from Asia. Now we can look past that and say, 'It's from this part of Africa or Eurasia.'"

Continued Singleton, "We can use these data to look at other areas of the genome that might have been under particular pressure for survival, and go from there to figuring out what the pressure is. One area that was highlighted was the genes responsible for digesting lactose. In countries where there's milk consumption, that one particular haplotype that allows more efficient lactose digestion has arisen."

They've not only been able to identify populations based on the genome alone, but they've also managed to model how humanity spread around the globe. Our history is encoded in our genes. How cool is that?

And all this was done using only the genomes of about a thousand people. Imagine what will be possible once we have even more data. And on the biology side, we will be able to repeat the same analysis for animals or plants. These are truly exciting times.

The full article that appeared in Science can be read here.

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