Different ethnic groups have different risks of genetic diseases. Simple.
So to boost the diversity of genetic databases, the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe will offer free genetic testing to 10,000 African Americans. The project is called Roots into the Future.
23andMe analyzes DNA using chips that detect a million common genetic variations across the genome, Technology Review explains.
Users, who order the test online for $99, get a customized report detailing their genetic risk for about 200 diseases and other traits. The vast majority of predictions are based on studies that were mainly of people of European descent. So it’s not clear whether the findings are relevant for African Americans.
The company has 56,000 Northern Europeans on file and only 1,000 African-Americans. In fact, 96% of participants in recent genomic studies trace most of their ancestry to Europe, Wired reports.
People of African descent who are 18 years or older, have access to the internet, and are willing to complete online health surveys are eligible.
The advisers on the project include:
- Henry Louis Gates Jr. of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, who has read the DNA of Oprah, Chris Rock, and Don Cheadle, telling them where their ancestors originated and how much European blood they have.
- Rick Kittles from the University of Illinois, Chicago, who co-founded African Ancestry, Inc., a private company that provides DNA testing services for tracing African genetic lineages.
A major motivation behind genetic studies is to promote personalized medicine to help predict disease risk and treat patients based on their genetics. In addition to the 23andMe effort, several large-scale genetic projects on nonwhites are now underway, according to Tech Review:
- Last year, nonprofit Carlos Slim Health Institute in Mexico City and genomics research organization Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, launched a project to study the genetic basis of type 2 diabetes in Mexican and Latin American populations, as well as the genomics of cancer worldwide.
- In 2008, the National Institutes of Health opened a center devoted to the study of genetics, lifestyle, and disease in minority groups.
Image by keepthebyte via flickr