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Scientists flag concerns about Africa's place in worldwide genomic developments

8 June 2009
Appeared in BioNews 511

A study published this week in Science has kick-started discussions surrounding research into the genetic diversity of African populations and the necessity for Africa to keep up with genomics.

The study compared genetic markers - section of DNA that help to identify genetic heritage -between 121 African populations, four African-American populations and 60 non-African populations. One of the major outcomes of this research was to create the first large-scale genetic map of Africa. Furthermore, Africa was found to be the most diverse continent - with 14 ancestral groups.

The implications of having such genetic diversity are central to the ability of Africa to keep up with the development of new medicines, which are increasingly tailored to suit particular genetic profiles. Charles Rotimi, director of the US-based Centre for Research on Genomics and Global Health and contributor to the publication, warned that Africa risks being left behind as pharmaceutical companies develop drugs tailored to specific genetic profiles that will not be transferable to African populations.

This example can already be witnessed with development of the vaccination for meningitis. The vaccine was made against a serotype that was not circulating in Africa hence rendering the vaccine ineffective there. Rotimi said 'we do not want a situation where, again, resources are in the hands of the privileged few.' He added: However I do believe the world appreciates this must not be allowed to happen'.

It is hoped that the research will generate more research into genomics and biomedical developments in Africa. Microbiologist Agnes Awomoyi of the University of Ohio emphasised that drug trials should include all major African populations. Maritha Kotze, a geneticist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, echoed this sentiment emphasising the importance of Africa being involved in the initial stages of drug development. 'There is so much good that comes of drugs properly developed for a specific population', she said.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Scientists call for African genomics boost
SciDev.net |  2 June 2009
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