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A New Way to Look for Diseases’ Genetic Roots

The hunt for the genetic roots of common diseases has hit a blank wall.

The genetic variants found so far account in most cases for a small fraction of the genetic risk of the major killers. So where is the missing heritability and why has it not showed up?

A Duke geneticist now suggests that the standard method of gene hunting had a theoretical flaw and should proceed on a different basis. The purpose of the $3 billion project to decode the human genome, completed in 2003, was to discover the genetic roots of common diseases like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. The diseases are called complex, meaning that several mutated genes are probably implicated in each.

A principal theory has long been that these variant genes have become common in the population because the diseases strike late in life, after a person has had children. Bad genes would not be eliminated by natural selection at that age, as they would if the diseases struck before the child-bearing years.
 
 

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