Published online 12 October 2007 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2007.161
Corrected online: 15 October 2007

News

First Asian genome sequenced

Individual genomes get boost from Chinese effort.

Han Chinese represent 92% of China’s population and are the largest ethnic group in the world.Punchstock

Scientists in Shenzhen announced yesterday that they have sequenced the diploid genome of a Han Chinese individual. The announcement comes on the heels of the completion of Craig Venter’s1 and James Watson’s personal genomes earlier this year.

“Everyone will get their own genome sequenced in the near future, for better health care. We are very excited because this accomplishment got us closer to that goal,” a scientist from the Beijing Genomics Institute said in a press release.

Although humans share most of their genome with one another, slight genetic differences may correspond to variation in their susceptibility to diseases and responses to therapeutics.

Han Chinese represent 92% of China’s population and are the largest ethnic group in the world. People in the same ethnic groups can share genetic characteristics that may be useful for targeting future drug treatments.

“We certainly know there is a lot of genetic variation, and it is not distributed uniformly around the world,” says Kenneth Kidd, a population geneticist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who is one of the founders of the Human Genome Diversity Project. “The difference between Jim Watson and Craig Venter was fairly illuminating.”

One, two, three

The technical details of the Beijing group’s research have not yet been released, but as the first Asian genome sequenced, scientists are already heralding it as a promising advance. “We’re seeing three genomes sequenced this year,” says Thomas Hudson, a geneticist at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto, “it’s a very important step.” Hudson led the effort to generate a gene map of the human genome at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and visited the Beijing Genomics Institute in 2005 as part of a collaboration on the International HapMap Project. He found the Beijing group to be very keen, he says. “They’re very eager to partake in modern science and show that they have a capable group.”

The cost of sequencing has decreased tremendously in the past year, which means more of these announcements are expected in the future. The Human Genome Project, which was completed four years ago, cost US$3 billion over 13 years. James Watson’s genome was completed in June in just two months for less than $1 million. “That $1,000 genome which people have been talking about,” says Hudson, “we’re getting there.”

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The Beijing group plans to sequence more individuals in the Asian population so that they can begin to correlate genetic variation with underlying disease. Hudson believes that this is a step in the right direction. “To really understand the spectrum of variation, we’re going to need thousands of sequences, not one or two per population.” 

Corrected:

This work was announced in Shenzhen, not Beijing as previously stated. This has been corrected.
  • References

    1. Levy S, et al. PLoS Biol. 5, e254 (2007). | PubMed |
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