A new study has revealed that there is a genetic irregularity that makes exposure to tuberculosis (TB) amongst African populations more likely. TB is one of the world’s deadliest diseases with at least nine million people requiring treatment and more than two million people dying from the disease every year. Scientists analysed hundreds of thousands of genetic structures using a technique known as a genome-wide association (GWA) study to uncover their findings.
Though it has been ten years since the human genome project was completed, very little research is yet to be uncovered about Africans. Most studies have previously occurred amongst American, Asian and European populations. Professor Adrian Hill one of the curators of the programme explained that, ‘although we know of other genetic variants which increase susceptibility to TB, this is the first to have been identified using a genome-wide association study. This is very important as it demonstrates that we can do these studies – which have been so successful in European populations – in African populations, which suffer the greatest burden from infectious diseases.’
The study was led by professors from the University of Oxford, UK and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany. The findings have proven to be particularly significant to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US and the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust, who recently announced the launch of H3Africa, a Human Heredity and Health in Africa Project. The $30 million venture will attempt to uncover the relationship between genes and the environment in the development of cancer, heart disease, malaria and other diseases in African populations.
It is hoped that this investment in Africa will prove to be as beneficial as previous studies. The continent has around one billion inhabitants and genomes that subsequently contain more genetic variation than any other region on Earth. The progress made by the recent findings will undoubtedly mark a moment in which Africa is at last given a place on the genome map.