Genome Study Points to Adaptation in Early African-Americans

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, New Media, United States on 2012-01-03 00:37Z by Steven

Genome Study Points to Adaptation in Early African-Americans

The New York Times

Nicholas Wade, Science Reporter

Researchers scanning the genomes of African-Americans say they see evidence of natural selection as their ancestors adapted to the harsh conditions of their new environment in America.

The scientists, led by Li Jin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, report in the journal Genome Research that certain disease-causing variant genes became more common in African-Americans after their ancestors reached American shores—perhaps because they conferred greater, offsetting benefits. Other gene variants have become less common, the researchers say, like the gene for sickle cell hemoglobin, which in its more common single-dose form protects against malaria. The Shanghai team suggests the gene has become less common in African-Americans because malaria is much less of a threat.

The purpose of studying African-American genomes is largely medical. Most searches for variant genes that cause disease take place in people of European ancestry, and physicians want to make sure they have not missed variants that may be more common in African-Americans and helpful for developing treatments or diagnosis.

Such searches often reveal events in a population’s history by pinpointing genes that have changed under the pressure of natural selection…

…The Shanghai researchers used a method for studying admixture, a geneticist’s term for when two populations or races intermarry; China has several such populations, perhaps accounting for the team’s interest. Using gene chips that analyze common variations in the human genome, researchers can deconstruct the chromosomes of an African-American, say, assigning each chunk of DNA to an African or European origin.

The scientists found that of the African-American genomes in their sample, 22 percent of the DNA came from Europeans, on average, and the rest from African ancestors, a figure in line with other estimates…

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