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Asian genetic map to be unveiled
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Biologists in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen will soon release the first map of an East Asian gene, laying the groundwork for future discoveries about the race.

This will be the third individual gene map released, building on previous work by two US biologists - James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winner who published his map in May, and Craig Venter, who published almost all 6 billion letters, or 96 percent, of his own personal genetic code in the journal PLoS Biology early this month.

"The yellow race must have its own genetic traits. Our project will lay the groundwork for personalized genetic research, especially for East Asians," Ye Jia, spokeswoman for the Beijing Genomics Institute Shenzhen (BGI-SZ), a non-government, non-profit scientific organization, said yesterday.

The project is the result of joint efforts by the BGI-SZ, the Beijing Institute of Genomics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (BGI-CAS) and the National Engineering Research Center of Bioinformatics Center (NERC-BS), which had previously worked as a team for the Human Genome Project.

With personalized genetic genome sequences, or genetic maps, people will be able to gain a new understanding of their genetic destinies, from diseases to personality traits, according to the DNA inherited from their parents.

"For the first time, we can answer almost any question of what's genetic, what's the environment. Our genes can tell us probabilities of what might happen and give us a chance to do something about it," Venter was quoted by CNN as saying in a recent interview.

Specialists will be able to use these maps to search for clues of links to diseases such as blindness, diabetes, hypertension and obesity, allowing people to take actions or treatments to prevent them, Ye said.

The breakthrough will also promote the development of new medicine and therapies, she said.

It is not easy to sequence the genomes of ordinary people at the moment, given the high costs, Ye said.

"Although the introduction of a new gene sequencing machine at the end of last year has cut costs and improved efficiency, it still costs about $2 million to sequence an individual genome," she said.

The idea of being able to predict diseases has fired the imaginations of many Chinese people, some of whom are hoping that genetic maps will be commercialized as quickly as possible.

"It might be sad to know my genes could leave me susceptible to deadly diseases, but I would still be happy to have a map as I could live a healthier life and take preventive measures," Zeng Yong, an IT manager in Beijing, said.

(China Daily September 21, 2007)

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