The first study resulting from the GenomeAsia 100K project has revealed that Asia has at least ten distinct genetic ancestral lines, compared to the single genetic lineage found in northern Europe.
The results were found from the genomic sequencing of 598 individuals belonging to 55 ethnic groups from India. The project is set to expand to cover the genomes of 100,000 individuals across southeast Asia.
“To put it into context, imagine we looked at all people of European descent and based on the level of their genetic diversity, observed that they could all be grouped into just one ancestral lineage or population,” said Stephan C. Schuster, professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
“Now, if we took that same approach with our new data from people of Asian descent, then based on the much higher levels of genetic diversity observed we would say that there are ten different ancestral groups or lineages in Asia.”
India has long been underrepresented in global genetic databanks. India represents almost twenty percent of the world’s population — and is on track to become the world’s most populous nation in the coming decades. Despite this, only 0.2 percent of fully mapped genomes in global databanks are of Indian origin.
In adding genetic diversity to the global databanks, the GenomeAsia project, therefore, is vital as it allows for the analysis of diseases and conditions linked to a genetic origin that is unique among the ethnic groups present in Asia.
Despite low coverage in global databanks, current information on Indian genetics has identified six genes that are unique among the Indian population. These genes all present unique risk factors in the development of diabetes. To an extent, this explains part of the increase in prevalence of diabetes within India, with the unique genetic risk factors combining with increasingly unhealthy lifestyles to rapidly increase the rates of diabetes.
“We have a great opportunity to apply genomics in India to understand, manage and treat diseases. Genomic analysis of our unique population groups and disease cohorts will lead to identification of genetic mutations and drug targets not just for India but for the whole world,” said Sam Santhosh, chief executive officer of genomics-driven research and diagnostics company MedGenome and one of the study authors.
This is a position also held by the Indian government, with increased investment into genome sequencing sourced from the Centre. The potential benefits to the healthcare system are both considerable and multifaceted. Knowledge of unique risks among India’s population can allow for considerable improvements to preventative healthcare, as well as drug targeting in order to make use of the most effective drugs for the individual.