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Thailand launches project to map DNA
By Adam Marcus

Thai scientists are launching a project to identify 300,000 gene variants that put people at risk for severe forms of malaria, HIV infection, and other ailments endemic to that country.

Floating market in Thailand.

The researchers will identify places in the genome where a single unit of DNA may vary from one person to the next. These single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, could be risk factors for disease or make a person more responsive to a particular medication, among other things.

A primary goal is to pinpoint SNPs linked to malaria, HIV infection, and dengue hemorrhagic fever. "These are major public health problems in Thailand," says Anavaj Sakuntabhai, a molecular geneticist at the Institut Pasteur in Paris who is heading the project.

The group will also search for SNPs associated with diabetes, lupus, and schizophrenia, as well as certain cancers, such as nasopharyngeal tumors, that are especially prevalent among Thais.

Initially, the team will use DNA from 32 healthy men and women to identify SNPs. They will later analyze these SNPs in hundreds of Thais who have common diseases and their healthy relatives.

France's Centre National de Génotypage has agreed to sequence the DNA and will provide laboratory space and equipment to Thai researchers. The project is expected to take three years and cost $7 million.

The human genome contains an estimated 3 to 10 million SNPs. The SNP Consortium, a non-profit group of companies and the Britain's Wellcome Trust, has identified more than 1.5 million SNPs, and is now conducting the Allele Frequency Project, an effort to determine how often 60,000 SNPs occur in three populations—African Americans, Caucasians and Asians.

Four other Asian countries—China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan—have begun projects to map SNPs.

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