Leadership (Abuja)

27 November 2012

Nigeria: Bioinformatics - African Scientists to Sequence 1,000 Ethnic Groups

African scientists, under the aegis of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Bioinformatics Network (H3ABioNet), have said that they are set to sequence the bioinformatics of 1,000 ethnic groups from different backgrounds for effective investigations in health-related issues.

The genomic research and sequencing will be carried out by a $25 million and $13 million grant made available by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Wellcome Trust respectively within a five year period.

Speaking with journalists at the H3ABioNet - National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Node Interactive Video -Conferencing workshop in Abuja, the Director, Department of Molecular Biology and Bioinfromatics, Dr. Nash Oyekanmi, said the sequence will help medical practitioners in precise disease diagnosis and treatment.

Oyekanmi said, "Africa is the cradle of civilization, the initial gene originated from Africa and because of migration, a Nigerian may leave Lagos tonight and arrive in America. The immigrant can get to America with a new disease that was not there before, so what we want to do is to know the genetic background of all African population, through this we can know how they are disposed genetically to diseases, note the variation in their genetic composition. This can address the kind of drugs that can be given to them."

He stated that the scientists will soon commence pooling of sequence from various ethnic backgrounds so that each ethnic group will have general information about their ethnic background.

He said, "Not long ago, it cost us $100m to sequence a person's geno but now it costs about N500,000 to sequence a person's geno and now we're looking at sequencing more people so before you know it, even if you don't have a personalized bioinformatics, you will have a background information on different ethnic groups whether you are Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ashanti, Calabari, Bantu or from any other ethnic dispensation.

"What this implies is that very soon, in the near future, people will be carrying their geno-information in a chip so that when you go for tratement, you can simply present your chip to a doctor and he will know the best treatment for your geno instead of doing a guess work."

In his remarks, the Director General of NABDA, Prof. Bamidele Solomon, noted that Africans bear the burden of sickness because of the dearth of information hence the need for African scientists to pool the genetic information of Africans.

Bamidele said, "H3ABioNet is carrying out this sequence so they will be able to have serious genetic information about the positive agents and genetic causes and basis of various ailments facing Africa, it is clear that most of the data we have today on human heredity and health are of white people from Europe and America hence the need to put together a network across Africa where this information will be elucidated from the different backgrounds in terms of tribes and variety of people in Africa."

According to him, "The more data we get, the more knowledge we will have of what is causing various diseases. There are some components that scientists will have to understudy to be able to see what makes some people susceptible while others go around without being susceptible. What can be done and what kind of drugs to take."

Highlighting the benefit of the sequence to the common man in Nigeria, the DG said that the initiative will move from science to technology and down to products which the populace will benefit from directly.

He said, "In the beginning it will start from science then move to technology and finally into products, businesses or entrepreneurship opportunities.

"When it translates to products then the common man can benefit from it, when it translates to action that medical doctors can take in order to address the needs of the common man."

In a chat with journalists, Dr. Robert Dottin from the Gene Center, City University of New York, Jason State University, said it was important to have Africans participate in the process of analysis which will help in terms of determining the cause of diseases and in terms of preventing them.

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