University of Michigan scientists and their colleagues at the National Institute on Aging have produced the largest and most detailed worldwide study of human genetic variation, a treasure trove offering new insights into early migrations out of Africa and across the globe.
The new study, led by Rosenberg and National Institute on Aging colleague Andrew Singleton, produced genetic data nearly 100 times more detailed than previous worldwide assessments of human populations. It shows that:
• A recently discovered type of human genetic variation, known as a copy-number variant or CNV, is a reliable addition to the toolkit of population geneticists and should speed the discovery of disease-related genes. Rosenberg and his colleagues discovered 507 previously unknown CNVs, which are large chunks of DNA—up to 1,000,000 consecutive “letters” of the genetic alphabet—that are either repeated or deleted entirely from a person’s genome. Various diseases can be triggered by an abnormal gain or loss in the number of gene copies.
• It’s sometimes possible to trace a person’s ancestry to an individual population within a geographic region. While previous studies have found that broad-scale geographic ancestry could be successfully traced, the new results indicate “it’s becoming increasingly possible to use genomics to refine the geographic position of an individual’s ancestors with more and more precision,” Rosenberg said.
• Human genetic diversity decreases as distance from Africa—the cradle of humanity—increases. People of African descent are more genetically diverse than Middle Easterners, who are more diverse than Asians and Europeans. Native Americans possess the least-diverse genomes. As a result, searching for disease-causing genes should require the fewest number of genetic markers among Native Americans and the greatest number of markers among Africans.
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