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The first Arab human genome has been sequenced as part of a large project sequencing 100 genomes to map genetic variation in Arab people.

Saudi Biosciences, in collaboration with the Beijing Genomics Institute Shenzhen, and the Denmark-based bioinformatics solution provider CLC bio announced the sequencing last week (9 September).

Saeed Al-Turki, project coordinator at Saudi Biosciences, says that extensive studies have been carried out into the genetic differences in African, Asian and European populations and adding genetic attributes of the 400 million-strong Arabic population, who occupy many historical routes of human migration outside Africa, "will help to fill some gaps in the big picture". 

"Preliminary data shows interesting differences and raises the hope to narrow down causative variants for some common diseases like diabetes mellitus, which is a major health problem in the Middle East," Al-Turki adds.

Al-Turki told SciDev.Net that the full Arab gene sequences will be added to the open access database GenBank along with other more specific international, regional and national databases.

Abdelaziz Sefiani, professor of medical genetics at the Morocco-based National Institute of Health of Rabat and founder of the Moroccan Human Mutation Database, says that the sequences will be a vital information source for Arab medical scientists and health professionals to develop cost-effective strategies for preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases.

"Finding links between human genes and certain diseases will help in developing genetic tests to identify people at risk and to tailor treatments to their genetic makeup."

But Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, medical scientist and executive director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust cautions that there is much work to be done in the legal and ethical spheres before genome sequencing technology becomes widespread.

"To avoid the negative impact of the project, Arab states must establish adequate legal measures and ethical guidelines as well as analysing the social impact of the availability of personal genetic information before delivering them to the public and medical communities."

Publication of the data from the first genome is expected at the beginning of 2009, following completion of the data analysis, says Al-Turki.

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