Reference genome is threatening dream of personalized medicine - STAT
On March 23, 1997, the then-nascent Human Genome Project placed an ad in a newspaper in Buffalo, N.Y. (site of a project scientist’s lab), seeking volunteers to donate blood from which they would sequence DNA. Through a quirk of whose DNA got processed when, about 70 percent of the reference genome comes from an anonymous man designated RP11, said UW genome scientist Evan Eichler, with the rest from a few score other volunteers. The reference genome is therefore a mashup of the sequences of these everyday people.
As a result, it isn’t a perfectly healthy genome: It has at least 3,556 variants that increase the risk of diseases, including type 1 diabetes and hypertension.
Its most serious shortcoming, however, reflects the fact that 1990s Buffalo was not exactly the United Nations. Its ethnic populations are almost all European — German, Irish, Polish, and others. The reference genome, therefore, is as well. That had long been known, but was largely swept under the rug.