Sunday, May 07, 2006

Gene Hunting in French Canada

Genizon BioSciences, a biotech company based in Quebec is using the genetic homogeneity of French Canadians to find new drug targets -- and redefine human disease.

In the 17th century, 15,000 French immigrants bravely made their way to eastern Canada. Some headed further west, many returned to France, but a hardy few stayed in Quebec. Starting with a total of just 2,600 people between 1608 and 1760, this group would grow 800-fold over the next 10 or so generations, with little marriage outside the group. The result is the Quebec "founder" population -- a genetically homogenous group of individuals that is ideally suited to the genetic study of disease.

Geneticists have long taken advantage of founder populations -- so named because only a few ancestors founded the entire population -- such as the Ashkenazi Jews and Icelandic people. Members of these groups share long stretches of DNA, which simplifies genetic studies of disease by reducing the background noise of other genetic variations.

Today's best-known gene-hunting company, deCODE genetics, an Icelandic gene and drug discovery company, has identified genes for diabetes, heart disease, and asthma within the small Icelandic population. Now a biotech company, Genizon BioSciences, is finding similar success with the French Canadians of Quebec. Based in Quebec, the company is taking advantage of new advances in genomics to find disease genes that have been hard to detect with other methods.
The full article by Emily Singer can be read in
Technology Review.