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Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2007 * Feature Articles Awards & Grants Recent Patents Accolades
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Computer Program Traces Ancestry Using Anonymous DNA Samples
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Above: Plot of genetic markers for 255 individuals from four continental regions. Red and Green represents identical genotypes. Black represents genotypic variations. Notice the distinct patterns formed in the four continental blocks, highlighting the genetic similarities between people of the same ancestry.

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* Petros Drineas
Petros Drineas, senior author of the study and assistant professor of computer science
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Unraveling Complex Diseases

“Now that we have found that the program works well, we hope to implement it on a much larger scale, using hundreds of thousands of SNPs and thousands of individuals,” Drineas said. “The program will be a valuable tool for understanding our genetic ancestry and targeting drugs and other medical treatments because it might be possible that these can affect people of different ancestry in very different ways.”

Understanding our unique genetic makeup is a crucial step to unraveling the genetic basis for complex diseases, according to the paper. Although the human genome is 99 percent the same from human to human, it is that 1 percent that can have a major impact on our response to diseases, viruses, medications, and toxins. If researchers can uncover the minute genetic details that set each of us apart, biomedical research and treatments can be better customized for each individual, Drineas said.

In addition to Drineas, the algorithm was developed by scientists from California, Puerto Rico, and Greece. The researchers involved include lead author Peristera Paschou from the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece; Elad Ziv, Esteban G. Burchard, and Shweta Choudhry from the University of California, San Francisco; William Rodriguez-Cintron from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in San Juan; and Michael W. Mahoney from Yahoo! Research in California.

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