Genetics Project” Update April 15, 2017
Published by 23andMe under 23andMe Research, Ancestry October, 2016
To enhance its research and enrich its customer experience, 23andMe is launching the African Genetics Project, Africa_icon recruiting people who emigrated from, or whose parents emigrated from several specific countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa is the birthplace of all humanity, and its people are the most genetically diverse in all the world, yet our knowledge of that diversity is limited. This newest project follows continuing efforts by 23andMe to enrich our understanding of the human story and increase diversity in genetic research, while also providing more detailed ancestry results for 23andMe customers with recent African ancestry.
23andMe’s African Genetics Project is offering kits at no cost to people with all four of their grandparents born in the same African country or from the same ethnic or tribal group within one of the following countries — Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ivory coast, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. The west African countries in that list are a priority for 23andMe because the majority of slaves brought from Africa to the Americas were brought from these African locations. We are also gathering data from individuals with all four grandparents from Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia to aid in identifying ancestry for more recent immigrants and to improve our reference populations for Africa.
This effort is unique in many respects, but primarily because it allows people of African ancestry who know where in Africa their family came from, to help others with African ancestry discover more about their own African roots. The effort may also yield insights into the TransAtlantic slave trade, and migrations within Africa over the last few hundred years.
While the goals of this project are focused primarily on improving ancestry insights, the African Genetics Project is part of a long list of efforts undertaken by 23andMe to improve diversity in research. Some estimates show that more than 90 percent of the research into the genetics underlying disease is on individuals of European descent alone, but for many conditions an individual’s ethnicity plays an important role and the insights from those studies fall short of helping people of other backgrounds.
There are a number of reasons for the lack of diversity — historical, cultural, economic and social — but by reaching out and recruiting people from all backgrounds it will also ensure that everyone benefits from advances in genetic science.
Over the last five years, 23andMe has undertaken several initiatives on that front including its Roots Into the Future project to study the genetics of disease impacting African Americans, the first-ever genetic portrait of the United States that mapped the country’s Native American, African and European ancestry, and more recently a NIH-funded project to develop a new way to detect disease causing genetic variants among ethnically mixed populations.
Taken together, these initiatives have helped 23andMe improve diversity in its research. The African Genetics Project is part of that same effort and it will allow 23andMe to identify genetic similarities of people from specific locations in Africa. This in turn will not only improve what we can tell our customers with African ancestry, but will also aid our research into how people migrated within and from Africa over the last 5,000 years.