It’s known in both the medical community and the African-American community that Blacks suffer disproportionately from ailments like sickle cell anemia and high blood pressure. But it’s not necessarily known why. The racial implications of disease can baffle scientists, and a better understanding of genes is required to truly get to the bottom of things. Today, a path toward that greater understanding has been laid.
In the culmination of work from a team of scientists from around the globe, the most detailed genetic map of African-Americans in the history of the world has been created and published, affording medical professionals the opportunity to understand the building blocks of African-Americans in a brand new way. The map, which appears in the scientific journal Nature, combines the work of 81 researchers who painstakingly pieced together data from five earlier studies. The result, says David Reich, the Harvard professor who co-led the study, is “one of the fundamental tools that people use for interrogating the genome, to find disease genes and to find risk factors. This is a big leap forward in one’s ability to do that.”
Already researchers have used the map to show that the genetic shuffling that occurs when DNA from a mother and father mix in the formation of sperm and eggs, African-Americans' genetic material fuses differently than whites’ genetic material. The difference lies in a gene called PRDM9.
This certainly isn’t evidence that all illnesses impacting Black people are set to go away tomorrow, but it is a major step toward a healthier African-American community. What’s more, scientists around the world are devoting time, money and effort to create this map and that is proof positive that the lives and livelihoods of Black people are no longer being ignored. Regardless of whether we can cure sickle cell, we’re at least doing our best to cure racism.
(Photo: MIKE BROWN/Landov)