Scientists don’t know enough about genetics in the Arab world

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Few scientific advances have had an impact on modern medicine like the sequencing of the human genome in 2003. Before modern genomics, as the study of genes is called, many diseases were known to be inherited, but precisely who would bear the burden of inheriting them was a difficult question. Mapping the entire human genome has increasingly made it possible to determine an individual’s susceptibility to specific diseases in advance, leading to more accurate diagnoses and better treatments.

UAE public authorities this week encouraged Emirati nationals to offer anonymous blood samples to provide more data to the UAE Genome Program, a project launched last year with the aim of creating a genomic data repository for the local population. The program has already collected thousands of samples.

Although the overwhelming majority of genes are shared between populations, two copies of the human genome tend to differ from each other by about 0.1%. Variations, called polymorphisms, are the product of naturally selected random mutations throughout human history. It is therefore not surprising that many are commonly found in specific population groups with shared genetic ancestry. The diversity of polymorphisms and the mixing of population groups have contributed to the maintenance of the health of our species throughout history. But it is also responsible for the wide range of health problems that plague us.

As researchers seek to better use genomics to better understand diseases, it is essential to access as large a sample of genomes as possible from as many population groups as possible. To find them, they turn to databases of publicly available studies on the links between genes in population groups and various diseases, known as genome-wide association studies (GWAS). The most important is the GWAS catalog, jointly published by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the United States and the European Institute of Bioinformatics. Genetic diversity may be the key to healthy human evolution, but diversity in gene sampling is the key to healthy genetic science. And this is an area in which the global scientific community is lagging behind, with consequences particularly felt in the Arab world.

In 2009, 96% of the 1.7 million genome samples available through GWAS were taken from people of white European descent. Virtually none of them were of Arab origin. In 2016, with the advent of GWAS in East Asian countries, the number of samples available skyrocketed to 35 million and white representation declined to 81%. But samples of Arabs and people from the Middle East made up only 0.08% of those available. And although by 2020, the GWAS catalog shows nearly 436 million samples available, the proportion of Arab and Middle Eastern samples drops significantly, to 0.01%.

This is a situation that Dr Habiba AlSafar, an Emirati geneticist at Khalifa University, has called “intolerable”. The lack of data available on population groups in the Middle East is, in part, the product of more money and attention being paid to other groups in places where genetic science has traditionally been more advanced, to know West and East Asia. But it is also the result of a plethora of geopolitical obstacles, such as weak scientific institutions, economic crises and war in many countries in the region. The consequence is less knowledge available about the links between genes and disease for the inhabitants of the region.

The worst of these hurdles is absent from the Gulf, where the Emirati Genome Program and others like it in neighboring states offer a rare opportunity to revive efforts to better understand Arab genomes. If successful, they could also serve as a model for other countries in the region and a springboard to instill confidence in genetic research. Ultimately, they could help bridge the global data gap, giving the discipline of genomics much needed diversity.

Updated: July 1, 2021, 04:20

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.

Tarabut Gateway Profile

Founder: Abdulla Almoayed

Based: United Arab Emirates

Founded: 2017

Number of employees: 35

Sector: FinTech

Raised: $ 13 million

Funders: Berlin-based venture capital firm Target Global, Kingsway, CE Ventures, Entrée Capital, Zamil Investment Group, Global Ventures, Almoayed Technologies and Mad’a Investment.


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