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{bio,medical} informatics

Friday, July 20, 2001

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find related articles. powered by google. The New York Times Genome Mappers Navigate the Tricky Terrain of Race
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"Scientists planning the next phase of the human genome project are being forced to confront a treacherous issue: the genetic differences between human races."

"With the decoding of the human genome largely complete, government scientists are beginning to construct a special kind of genetic map that would provide a shortcut to locating the variant human genes that predispose people to common diseases."

"The question the scientists face is whether that map should chart possible differences that may emerge among the principal population groups, those of Africans, Asians and Europeans."

redux [03.18.01]
find related articles. powered by google. The Atlantic Online The Genetic Archaeology of Race

"Genetics research is demonstrating that the differences in appearance among groups are profoundly incidental, but these differences do have a genetic basis. And although it's true that all people have inherited the same genetic legacy, the genetic differences among groups have important implications for our understanding of history and for biomedical research. These complications in an otherwise reassuring story have thoroughly spooked the leaders of the public and private genome efforts. The NIH has been collecting information about genetic variants from different ethnic groups in the United States, but it has refused to link specific variants with ethnicity. Celera has been sequencing DNA from an Asian, a Hispanic, a Caucasian, and an African-American, but it, too, declines to say which DNA is which.

This strategy of avoiding the issue is almost sure to backfire. It seems to imply that geneticists have something to hide. But the message emerging from laboratories around the world should be hailed, not muzzled. It is one of great hope and promise for our species."

redux [06.11.01]
find related articles. powered by google. The New York Times Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows
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"Scientists have long suspected that the racial categories recognized by society are not reflected on the genetic level.

But the more closely that researchers examine the human genome -- the complement of genetic material encased in the heart of almost every cell of the body -- the more most of them are convinced that the standard labels used to distinguish people by "race" have little or no biological meaning.""

"Through transglobal sampling of neutral genetic markers -- stretches of genetic material that do not help create the body's functioning proteins but instead are composed of so-called junk DNA -- researchers have found that, on average, 88 percent to 90 percent of the differences between people occur within their local populations, while only about 10 percent to 12 percent of the differences distinguish one population, or race, from another.

To put it another way, the citizens of any given village in the world, whether in Scotland or Tanzania, hold 90 percent of the genetic variability that humanity has to offer."

""Ethnicity is a broad concept that encompasses both genetics and culture," Dr. Anand said. "Thinking about ethnicity is a way to bring together questions of a person's biology, lifestyle, diet, rather than just focusing on race. Ethnicity is about phenotype and genotype, and, if you define the terms of your study, it allows you to look at differences between groups in a valid way."

redux [08.01.00]
find related articles. powered by google. GeneLetter Inequalities and individualized medicine

"Over the next few years a number of competing groups - my own company, Sequenom, among them -- will sort through the diverse genetic material of the human species to find those variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced SNIPS) that predispose individuals to major clinical disorders."

"At present the overwhelming bulk of the effort to identify these natural variations is in the private sector. This is inevitable because SNPs that associate with major diseases are patentable, by traditional standards."

"Whatever ensues, it is clear that the rate of discovery of medically important SNPs and their conversion into clinically useful tools will not progress equally fast or uniformly for all segments of mankind."

"It will be easier to discover medically important SNPs in geographically isolated and inbred populations in which good familial records and where migration has not introduced confounding genetic variation. Iceland and Finland are strong early candidates."

redux [03.12.01]
find related articles. powered by google. GeneLetter Drawing DNA lines of ethnicity

"The idea of using genetics to determine ethnic heritage has been growing in popularity over recent years. When Rick Kittles, a geneticist at Howard University, offered to trace tribal roots via a $350 DNA test, African Americans flooded his telephone line with requests.

"Even if an identifying marker shows up, the result isn't necessarily definitive. While certain markers may be more common to one ethnic group, most also can be found in other populations as well.

"Because of the tremendous genetic variation within populations, it would be biologically impossible to settle on a limited number of genetic markers that could define "Native Americans," says Morris Foster, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma who has wrestled with the risks faced by Indian tribes interested in genetic research.

Furthermore, Foster added in an e-mail interview with GeneLetter, "it is absurd to try to define what is essentially a social identity by using biological characteristics. This, though, is how racism has historically worked."

[ rhetoric ]

Bioinformatics will be at the core of biology in the 21st century. In fields ranging from structural biology to genomics to biomedical imaging, ready access to data and analytical tools are fundamentally changing the way investigators in the life sciences conduct research and approach problems. Complex, computationally intensive biological problems are now being addressed and promise to significantly advance our understanding of biology and medicine. No biological discipline will be unaffected by these technological breakthroughs.


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