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Researchers explore genetic basis of health, disease distribution

A team of researchers at the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) in Nigeria has discovered over three million variations of gene types providing new insights into gene-causing diseases and migration tracking, Prof. Clement Adebamowo, who led the study, said on November 13, 2020 in Abuja

Prof. Clement Adebamowo
Prof. Clement Adebamowo

Adebamowo, a Principal Investigator of the African Collaborative Centre for Microbiome and Genetic Research (ACCME) at the Institute, said in an interview in Abuja that the research sought to characterise variations in multiple African populations in much more detailed way.

He said that the study identified 3.4 million new variations in the genome that would help in new discoveries of genes that cause diseases and those that determine how we interact with drugs.

“This is necessary because the African population is the oldest human population, so we need to know the type of variations that are present therein to better understand variations that we see in other human populations,’’ he added.

The study, which focused on the Berom ethnic group in Plateau, sought to explore the detailed genetic variation in African populations so as to ‘’better understand the populations that constitute our countries in Africa”.

He said that in this particular study for the Nigerian population, the researchers found dramatic differences in the genome of the Berom people in Plateau State.

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“What we found was that the Berom people came to the current location in modern Nigeria by migrating from East Africa about 1500 to 2000 years ago.

“That is interesting because they are genomically different from their surrounding tribes and cultural groups.

“It’s always helpful to have these kinds of information because the distribution of genomic variants in that population may be different in a systematic way from that of the groups around them.

“That may explain the distribution of diseases and distribution of drug reactions that we see in that population,” he said.

Adebamowo said that the study was also carried out in order to better understand the distribution of diseases and health outcomes in populations, as well as determine, to a large extent, many characteristics.

“Genes are responsible for how tall you are, whether you are fat or thin and also what types of common diseases and rare diseases you can get.

“We may see certain genes common in, say, a population in the Middle East but that gene is not common in a population in West Africa.

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“If that gene causes a specific disease then that disease will be more common in Middle Eastern population than in the West African population,” he said.

He added that the knowledge that certain genetic variations were common in a population and are associated with a specific disease would help the authorities plan testing programmes and identify people who may have that variation.

“That would make it easier to intervene and prevent them from having diseases associated with that variation.

“It is also good to know the pattern of variations that are threatening, as that would enable one to choose a treatment and predict the impact that the treatment would have on the patient.

“For example, by looking at the variations of genome, you can decide which anti-hypertensive drug will work best for this person versus the other person, or which type of side effects different persons would have.

“When people take drugs, they want to have maximal effect and they want to be able to have as low a number of side effects as possible. So, determining that at the genomic level is highly beneficial,” Adebamowo explained.

He noted that the use of genomics to trace ancestry and ethno linguistic groups was also beneficial because it helps Nigerians to understand the distribution of population.

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“Why do we have this population in this location, what is their relation at the genomic and anthropological level with their surrounding population? Those are usually very good things to know,” he said.

Adebamowo disclosed that the variations that were observed by the study had been stored in a public data base so as to enable researchers in Nigeria and other parts of the world have access to the data and use it for their own research and explore research questions.

“There are tonnes of research questions that this data alone can be used to answer. We have data and genomic information on at least 400 other ethno-linguistic groups in Nigeria so we are currently analysing that data.

“We will be publishing on the relationship, the migration and distribution of disease-causing genes in at least 200 to 250 different tribes.

“That is something that we are very excited about and we are looking forward to doing very shortly,” he said.

By Abujah Racheal

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