New Gene-Hunting Tricks

Researchers in the United States and France announced a surprising discovery: a single genetic variation is responsible for 18 to 37 percent of Parkinson's disease cases in Ashkenazi Jews and North African Arabs.
The discovery of the gene variation, which researchers think originated in a single person in the Middle East approximately 2,000 years ago, is important in understanding the causes of Parkinson's. It also reflects a growing tactic used by those hunting for the causes of diseases.

More and more scientists are studying populations of specific ancestry in order to hunt down genes linked to complex diseases.
Population geneticists are particularly enthusiastic about studying the genetic signatures of two types of communities: so-called "founder" populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews and French Canadians, in which only a few ancestors contributed to the population.
Says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "In these populations, the genome comes in big chunks of shared ancestry."
That makes genetic studies more efficient, because scientists have to sift through fewer chunks of DNA.

While gene testing for diseases that have no known cure, such as Parkinson's, is controversial, Laurie J. Ozelius, a molecular geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in the Bronx, who was involved in the research, says testing still could have some advantages. "People who come to the doctor [with symptoms of Parkinson's] already have a lot of degeneration. Now we can look at [earlier] stages of the disease," she says. "If we find treatments that slow the disease, it's better to identify a gene carrier so we can start the treatment earlier."

The Impact of Emerging Technologies: New Gene-Hunting Tricks - Technology Review

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