Feature

When DNA and culture clash

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Science  09 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6317, pp. 1217-1221
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6317.1217

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Summary

Largely because many Arabs marry cousins or other close relatives, Saudi Arabia, like much of the Middle East, has a high rate of inherited genetic diseases. Research on these diseases has been booming here, culminating in a project called the Saudi Human Genome Program. Fowzan Alkuraya, a young geneticist who may be the country's leading gene sleuth, and colleagues are harnessing cheap, next-generation DNA sequencing to pin down mutations underlying unexplained diseases. They have analyzed the DNA of more than 10,000 patients in the past 5 years, solving many cases and turning up many new disease genes. Saudi researchers hope the growing catalog of disease mutations they have found will help individual families with inherited diseases have healthy babies. Their work could also lead to premarriage DNA tests for young people that could bring down the prevalence of those diseases here. But first, Saudi geneticists will have to get past the worsening budget crisis here triggered by the global drop in oil prices.