Sci­en­tists delve into DNA of Africa

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - METRO - SHAUN SMILLIE

ACROSS Africa lies a trea­sure trove that is help­ing in the fight against dis­ease and even telling the story of our ear­li­est ori­gins.

This trea­sure trove is car­ried in the cells of every liv­ing African but only re­cently have sci­en­tists be­gan un­lock­ing its se­crets. It is the dou­ble helix of DNA and Africa has be­come the next fron­tier in ge­netic re­search.

This in­ter­est is be­cause hu­mans orig­i­nated from Africa.

“There is a gap in what we know about hu­man ge­netic vari­a­tion, and data from Africa can close this gap,” Dr Michelle Skel­ton of UCT, who is part of the of the Hu­man Hered­ity and Health in Africa (H3Africa )Ad­min­is­tra­tive Co-or­di­nat­ing Cen­tre, said.

H3Africa is a health and ge­nomics re­search con­sor­tium that spans 32 coun­tries, and in­cludes 48 projects. The ini­tia­tive be­gan in 2012.

“The rest of the world is ac­tu­ally pop­u­lated by a sub­set of peo­ple who came from Africa, and mi­grated out of the con­ti­nent in sev­eral waves from roughly 70 000 years ago, Pro­fes­sor Michele Ram­say, of Wits Univer­sity, who is also in­volved with H3Africa, said.

Be­sides fol­low­ing the paths of an­cient mi­gra­tory routes, ge­net­ics is pro­vid­ing in­sight into dis­eases and how they af­fect dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions.

“What we want to un­der­stand is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ge­netic vari­a­tion and dis­ease,” Ram­say said.

To col­lect data, a genome chip has been de­vel­oped by the H3Africa Con­sor­tium. It was “de­signed to de­tect spe­cific ge­netic vari­a­tions that are unique to Africans,” Skel­ton said.

THE 12th Meet­ing of the H3Africa Con­sor­tium held in Ki­gali, Rwanda, from Septem­ber 16 to Septem­ber 23.

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