Recent DNA studies only scratch the surface of complex Pinoy genetics

Written by Kim Luces
Originally Published Online GMA News

DNA—or deoxyribonucleic acid—is not just the double-helical structure that codes genetic traits. It is also the repository of the biological history of a species.

Population-based genetic studies, for instance, have provided evidence that many Filipino groups share a genetic ancestry with the aborigines of Australia, from whom they may have been separated by the Austronesian expansion.

Research using DNA sequences of different individuals also show that Filipinos from over 100 ethno-linguistic groups spread across 18 regions of the Philippines are genetically distant from each other and from people in their regions' city centers.

However, the same data showed scientists that people from city centers, regardless of which region they come from, are genetically close to each other.

The data, acquired from studying parts of our genetic code, only scratches the genetic surface of a very complicated population.

Imagine what secrets we could uncover by sequencing complete sets of DNA.

The suggestion: A Filipino genome diversity project

Filipino geneticist, evolutionary biologist, and New York University Dean of Science Dr. Michael Purugganan suggested a Filipino Genome Diversity Project that would sequence complete sets of Filipino genomes to acquire more data about our history and health.

We’d learn a lot about our origins and our genetic relations by sequencing 10 genomes from different Filipinos in the country, he said.

At present, a database of genetic information from several individuals already exists, but an entire genome, that is, a complete set of genetic code, has yet to be sequenced.

More than a decade ago, sequencing a single person's genome cost about 100 million US dollars and approximately three years to complete.

Now, with the new technology available, the same process can be done in seven days while only costing $10,000, said Purugganan in a lecture he gave at the National Museum of the Philippines.

This project might soon become a reality, but not quite yet.

The future of genome research in the Philippines

“Immediate work will not involve entire genome sequencing of a few individuals,” said Frederick Delfin, university research associate at the DNA Analysis Laboratory in the University of the Philippines Diliman.