In South Asian Social Castes, a Living Lab for Genetic Disease

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In South Asian Social Castes, a Living Lab for Genetic Disease
All of these groups have estimated founder effects about 10 times as strong as those of Finns
and Ashkenazi Jews, which suggests the South Asian groups have “just as many, or more, recessive diseases,” said Dr. Reich, who is of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage himself.
Over 15 years, the researchers collected DNA from people belonging to a broad swath of these groups, resulting in a rich set of genetic data
that pushes beyond the field’s focus on individuals of European ancestry, Dr. Reich said.
In previous studies, Dr. Reich, Dr. Thangaraj and colleagues found that social groups in South Asia mixed between around 4,000 and 2,000 years ago.
Marriage within a limited group, or endogamy, has created millions of people who are susceptible to recessive diseases, which develop only when a child inherits a disease-carrying gene from both parents, said Kumarasamy Thangaraj, an author of the study
and a senior scientist at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad.
Along with David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Thangaraj led an effort to analyze data from more than 2,800 individuals
belonging to more than 260 distinct South Asian groups organized around caste, geography, family ties, language, religion and other factors.
To measure the strength of different founder events, Dr. Reich
and Dr. Thangaraj’s team looked for long stretches of DNA shared between individuals from the same subgroups.


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