Home Others Study on Ashkenazi Jews opens genomic window

Study on Ashkenazi Jews opens genomic window

Health & MedicineFall 2014

The Ashkenazi Jewish population has played an important role in the study of human genetics because of their history of demographic isolation. Because Ashkenazi Jews have little genetic variation, it is relatively easy for scientists to discover abnormal genes that increase the risk of disease - findings that can lead to better diagnoses and medical treatments for all.

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That year, a team of researchers led by Itsik Pe'er of Columbia Engineering conducted what they consider to be the most comprehensive study of Ashkenazi genes ever. By analyzing the genomes of 128 healthy Ashkenazi Jews and comparing their profiles with those of non-Jewish Europeans, Pe’er and colleagues identified many previously unknown mutations that are common in Ashkenazim. Since then, they have published their entire database online in the hopes that other medical researchers will find links between some of these genetic variants and complex diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's, diabetes, and cancer.

Our study is the first full DNA sequence dataset available for Ashkenazi Jewish genomes, says Pe’er, an associate professor of computer science who is also co-chair of the Health Analytics Center at the Columbia Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering. It is particularly gratifying to think that our work is paving the way for personalized genomics in other population groups.

The mapping work drew on input from scientists from eleven laboratories in the New York City and Israel area as part of the Ashkenazi Genome Consortium, which Pe’er co-founded three years ago.

We wholeheartedly expect the creativity of the scientific world to open up additional uses for the data, says Pe'er, who is now working with others, including the New York Genome Center, to sequence approximately five hundred more Ashkenazi genomes to find the Catalog even more comprehensive.

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