[MEXICO CITY] Mexico's National Institute of Genomic Medicine this week launched plans to map the so-called Mexican genome, in an effort to find genetic links to common diseases such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure.
Modern Mexicans are a mixture of more than 65 native groups and Spanish people, said Gerardo Jiménez, who heads the institute.
"Characterising genetic variations in our unique population is the only way to cost-effectively develop better strategies for preventing, diagnosing, and treating such diseases," he said.
Diabetes alone is so prevalent in Mexico that it accounts for up to six per cent of the annual health budget, Jiménez told SciDev.Net.
Researchers hope that by finding links between human genes and certain diseases, it will be possible to identify people at risk before illness occurs, and to tailor treatments to their genetic makeup.
"Identifying susceptibility genes will help estimate an individual's risk of developing diabetes and will allow preventive measures to be taken," said Jiménez.
The Mexican Genome Project, the largest study of its kind in Latin America, will begin by mapping the entire genetic sequences — or genomes — of 180 people from the Yucatan peninsula, in south-east Mexico.
These will be complemented by samples taken from populations in Zacatecas and Guanajuato, in central Mexico, and Sonora, in the north-east.
The National Institute of Genomic Medicine will collaborate with private sector partners Affimetrix, IBM and Applied Biosystems to analyse the data collected.
Jiménez said the project data would be made available to the public through the institute's Internet site.
Speaking at the launch, health minister Julio Frenk said Mexico's future economic growth depended in part on developing genomic medicine, and that the Mexican Genome Project was part of a strategy to do so.The first phase of the project is expected to cost about US$2.5 million. It was launched on 26 July, the first anniversary of the creation of the National Institute of Genomic Medicine.