WASHINGTON (AFP) — Researchers on three continents will join together to catalog the genomes of 1,000 people in an ambitious project that they hope will help determine genetic roots and factors for human disease, the group announced Tuesday.
England's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the US National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), and China's Beijing Genomics Institute-Shenzhen are forming the 1000 Genomes Project to create a new map of the human genome with the most detailed data yet on DNA variations with biomedical significance.
"The 1000 Genomes Project will examine the human genome at a level of detail that no one has done before," said Richard Durbin of the Sanger Institute.
Sanger, who will co-chair the consortium, said the project only became possible in the past two years due to strides in genetic sequencing technology, bioinformatics and other research techniques.
"We are moving forward to build a tool that will greatly expand and further accelerate efforts to find more of the genetic factors involved in human health and disease," he said in a statement.
The research aims to provide more details of the one percent of DNA that varies from person to person and which is often responsible for differences in susceptibility to disease and reaction to treatments among individuals.
Researchers have already cataloged dozens of specific regions of variation in the human genome, or haplotypes, and associated them with common diseases like coronary artery disease, breast cancer, arthritis and age-related macular degeneration.
But current DNA maps are not highly detailed, and researchers want a finer picture of the human genome to better pinpoint the genetic factors in disease.
"Our existing databases do a reasonably good job of cataloging variations found in at least 10 percent of a population," said NHGRI Francis Collins.
"By harnessing the power of new sequencing technologies and novel computational methods, we hope to give biomedical researchers a genome-wide map of variation down to the one percent level," he said. "This will change the way we carry out studies of genetic disease."
The project will map the DNA of a number of specific ethnic groups, including Yoruba in Ibadan, Nigeria; Chinese in Denver, Colorado, and Chinese in Beijing; Toscani in Italy, Gujarati Indians in Houston, Texas; Mexicans in Los Angeles and African descendants in the US southwest.
The DNA is collected with permission and all identifying medical and personal information is stripped from the samples to protect their anonymity.
The consortium hopes that new technologies and methods along with the project's ambitious size will help them slash the cost of DNA sequencing to one-tenth of what it would have been just recently.
"This project will examine the human genome in a detail that has never been attempted -- the scale is immense," said Gil McVean of the University of Oxford in England.
"When up and running at full speed, this project will generate more sequence in two days than was added to public databases of all of the past year."
The data generated will be placed on freely accessible databases for scientists worldwide to make use of.
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