Under the skin, we’re all the same. That’s been the warm-and-fuzzy wisdom of modern genetics, based on the first efforts to sequence the human genome.
But a closer look by Mountain View biotech company Perlegen Sciences has found small genetic differences that vary in prevalence among people of different ancestries—suggesting that nature may not be colorblind, after all.
The goal of the new information is to help prevent and treat common diseases. The first comprehensive map of genetic variation among several ethnic groups, published in today’s issue of the journal Science, shows patterns of genetic variation that could explain differences in health, disease and response to medication. This is a key step toward the possibility of personalized medicine based on genetic variations.
Critics fear that the identification of biological differences among races could bolster cranks and demagogues, allowing scientists to play into the hands of racists. Many anthropologists, sociologists, geneticists and population biologists consider race a social construct.
But scientists and doctors say the idea of race-based medicine has new respectability—and that identifying tiny differences could help reduce health disparities among the races.