Genetic Genealogy: does Asia need it?

There is no doubt that the human genome project has been one of the significant discoveries of 21st century in medical field. It has certainly encouraged more curiosity about genomics study and genetic genealogy is one of the results. I will be discussing in this review about the methods used and their impact including how we should deal with our anxiety after receiving the results. Testing for the ancestry is still not yet affordable for common man, I will be discussing here strategy which can be adopted by health insurance companies especially in Asia to improve database for Asian population.

Before, I start praising that how useful it is; let’s first understand how it works. Companies use many strategy for example lineage based approaches, admixture testing, analyzing mitochondrial DNA etc.

Lineage based approaches give information about paternal ancestry. It analyzes DNA on Y chromosome. Continuous small genetic changes in the Y chromosome became marker of descent. Similarly, analyzing mitochondrial DNA gives information about maternal ancestry and helps to differentiate matrilineal line.

Admixture testing focuses on the 22 pairs of non sex chromosomes in every cell. This test gives information about the bio-geographical groups. It compares individual DNA’s to other people’s DNA sequences of a particular area from anywhere in the world to find out similarities. The outcome is in percentage.

This test generally requires saliva sample from where DNA is extracted, amplified and analyzed. Testing companies do not go in detail looking for three billion letters instead they look at small percentage of them. Further, sample will be compared to reference database to find out a set of closely linked genes. This information determines the shared ancestry.

Why does Asia need it?

This article motive is not to propose to follow any trend blindly even if it involves scientific goodness but to create awareness. Asian countries have been always rich in ethnicity and heritage but they are quite neutral towards this test. Generally, South and East Asian countries have controlled bloodline culture. It explains why people are not interested in genealogy test. They already know about their family tree. However, we still need well represented databases of Asian population.

Lineage and admixture both test require large database to produce accurate results. Suppose a client’s result from admixture testing shows seven percent East Asian. It can be true or an error. But if client has other evidence like his / her grandparent from South Asian descent then, it can provide better results.

World is a big place. If, we travel across Asian countries, we see many interesting things for examples in Nepal some people have very evident north Indian features while some have East Asian countries features. Similarly in India, north east Indians have East Asian features, north Indians have Persian features and south Indians have African features. All this looks pretty confusing but with genealogical information we can have answer to our questions that how in one land so many different looking populations exist.

Countries like India should be more interested in using genealogical DNA studies. History has shown that modern land of India was constantly invaded and colonized time to time by many. Many of them did not return to their native place and has started living in India itself. That does explain different features. Despite the presence of so much diversity; people remain in their own small communities and do not marry outside of the community due to the presence of very strong culture.  However, it’s important to break down the barrier and pure race myth and bring people closer to each other. Scientifically this land provides extensive gene pool which leads to the possibility of discovering unknown.

India is a very traditional country and people tend to marry within the community to secure the pure bloodline even in 21st century. However, there is some evidence which shows cross-cultural marriage like marriage between Mughal emperor Abu’l – Fath Jalal ud – din Muhammad Akbar and Hindu princess Harkha Bai in February 6, 1562 as a result of political union proving emergence of Indo – Persian culture. It might can solve the mystery that why some north Indians have Persian features.

Similarly, India and South Korea have strong cultural ties from two thousand years ago. These two countries had contact because in 48 AD an Indian princess from Ayodhya came to Korea to marry King Kim Su-ro of the Kingdom of Garak.

Despite the presence of the literary record, we still do not know whether these stories are fictional or not. In today’s modern society we are more inclined to rely on scientifically statistical results. Certainly genealogy testing can help us to get more close to our ancestors.

Conclusion

There are always two sides of coin. This case is no exception either. This test is based on the availability of database and so far companies do not have sequence of every individual. So, what we know till now is a probability not a sure shot result.

The other point is that one should not be confuse between ethnicity and genetics. Genetic test can provide more learning to ancestry but one’s identity can’t be simply confirmed. It’s more complicated the way it looks.

It will be interesting to see that how people will use their result’s information. They certainly do require knowledge and better understanding otherwise some of us can over react to see the tiny similarity with other ethnic groups. It’s good to find balance and do not carry away with the information. At the end of the day it’s worth to know about our ancestors.

I want to propose that genealogy test should be included in health insurance. It’s not going to be a burden down the line in fact this idea has some benefits.

  1. The average cost of genealogy test in present time is 200$. Many of us can’t pay this price at once and health insurance companies can encourage people to give some relax by covering small percentage.
  2. These health insurance companies can have tie ups with the companies who conduct genealogy test and can provide margin to clients who wants to provide their genome in database. This will help to create large database of population in order to get accurate results in future. However, details should not be public without permission of the client.
  3. It will appear shocking that genetic differences (which do classify us in different races) are being used in medicine. Rapid advances in technology have introduced personalized genome medicine. This revolution will yield more effective medicines but it’s far from affordability in present time. However, it’s possible that the cost will drop rapidly in progressive years. Genealogy test and genome medicine are two entire different concepts. But the awareness about genealogy test and database created by results will make people comfortable about the idea of genome medicine and help to narrow down diseases. Hopefully in future genome medicine can be equally popular as traditional medicines.

On a concluding note: we do not necessarily have to be sick to try out medical test. Some tests are made just to store our presence in ATGC code.

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