Science Magazine: Africans research own genomes

UC, Cincinnati Children's expert discusses the importance of including African genomes in research

Until recently, genetic research in Africa was scanty, and most was done by researchers swooping in from afar to gather samples, then leaving to do analyses in well-equipped labs in the United States or Europe. Researchers gathered samples with little regard for informed consent and without giving back to the communities they studied.

Today, young Africans are doing a substantial and growing share of this research. “African genomics is a story that’s going to be told more and more by Africans,” says Charles Rotimi, a genetic epidemiologist at the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute.

Bolstered by the internationally funded Human Heredity & Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative, researchers hope to one day use their data to bring genetically tailored medicine to people who in some places still struggle to get electricity and basic health care. The work is beginning to close a wide gap in who benefits from the human genome revolution. 

Including African populations is also paving the way for a better understanding of the links between disease and genes in everyone, everywhere, because Africa holds more genomic diversity than any other continent. “The African genome should be used as the reference genome for the entire world,” says Tesfaye Mersha, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati and researcher and geneticist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical center.

But genomic research in Africa has a long way to go. Researchers have only studied between 5,000 and 10,000 whole genomes from Africans, compared with as many as 1 million worldwide. Africa has received less than 1% of the global investment in genomics research and clinical studies, Mersha says.

Read the full Science Magazine article.

Featured image of African residents by Chrissie Cremer/Unsplash.

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