Moore and Williams call for refocusing and stepping up the research on gene-to-gene and gene-to-environment interactions. They explain that for many years, researchers have focused on single genes and clinical endpoints. The time has come, they say, to embrace rather than ignore the complexity of human traits as they are expressed by the whole genome working in concert.
"Although genetic testing for common human diseases is not yet useful, using genetic testing results to reveal an individual's ancestry is increasingly reliable," says Moore. He and PhD candidate Chantel Sloan recently mined some genetic data for a study that examined the population structure of New Hampshire residents.
Published in the September issue of PLoS ONE (a journal of the Public Library of Science), they study by Sloan and Moore and their colleagues analyzed more than 1,000 genetic markers from 864 people in New Hampshire. They discovered six subgroups of people with distinct genetic backgrounds including a group of Finnish and Russian/Polish/Lithuanian ancestry.
"I knew that people would be primarily European," says Sloan. "What I didn't expect was the strong connection between genetic structure and people of Eastern European ancestry, which I learned is consistent with New Hampshire census and immigration data from 1870 to 1930."
Sloan used data initially compiled for a cancer study, so the genetic markers were cancer susceptibility genes rather than known ancestral genes, and the population being analyzed was not racially or geographically distinct. The results challenge the assumption that large numbers of special genetic markers are needed to discover genetically distinct groups of people.
"This is an example of how personal genetic data can be u
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