How unlocking the secrets of African DNA could save the world
The lack of African genetic material in the global medical field constitutes a significant obstacle to understanding how our bodies and diseases function. African genomes are not only humanity’s oldest but our most diverse, and that diversity holds within it an almost limitless potential – from scientific breakthroughs to new cures to the learning humanities history basically the very story we tell ourselves about ourselves.
About 99 percent of all our genetic information comes from Africa and the rest of the world just took a fraction of our genetic diversity with them to other areas of the planet.
But Us in Africa have held the vast majority of humanities DNA, and as we intermarried and reproduced, that diversity remained, buffeted and transformed by environmental pressures including disease. Tapping into that diversity has implications for all of us and possibly the solution of saving the world from future pandemics.
According to Abasi Ene-Obong, the founder and CEO of African biotech start-up 54gene, black Africans and people of black ancestry are more genetically diverse than all of the other populations in the world combined, making their genetic information “a huge resource to be tapped”.
Dr. Abasi says that knowledge of the role genetics plays in diseases will help in developing a relevant treatment for new and existing conditions even cancer.
He is quoted saying
“Drugs are not even made with Africans in mind, they are not trialed clinically with an African population, so what you have is drugs with lower efficacy for African populations and with poorer safety profiles,” he added
“Our goal is to make sure that people are being diagnosed and treated using similar standards of care that you’ll find in the UK or the US,” he says.
New drugs take time to reach Africa – sometimes between 15 and 20 years, this is because Pharmaceutical giants often manufacture drugs for the profitable Western market, and the generic variants are only available in Africa after these companies lose their patents.
Dr. Abasi further added that the way to fix this lag is to increase access to genomic data from African populations to promote inclusive scientific research.
This will lead to optimized treatment and diagnostic outcomes that will not only treat Africans but also everyone else
We have lived the longest as humans on the African continent, and that has very, very important implications for understanding how forces that existed on the continent helped shape present-day human genomes, either in terms of how to survive infectious diseases or survive the environment.