A mission to uncover the genetic make-up of Britain is being carried out by Oxford researchers funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Sir Walter Bodmer at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine and his team, based in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at the Radcliffe Infirmary, together with Professors Peter Donnelly and Lon Cardon, are undertaking a £2 million study to find out how different races, tribes and invaders have influenced the genes of Britain’s modern population.
The findings will not only be used to create a genetic history, but they will also generate vital information that will contribute to an understanding of the inherited susceptibility to a wide range of diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease in various parts of the country. Such data could eventually provide researchers with ways of identifying people at risk of getting common illnesses.
The researchers will take blood from thousands of volunteers all over Britain. The samples will be used to isolate key pieces of DNA that best identify the influences – including Vikings, Saxons, and Celts – shaping regional populations.
Crucial to the study is finding participants with a relatively ‘stable’ genetic background. Only those in the countryside will be asked to take part: ‘Urban populations are already far too mixed up for us to be able to tease out their genetic roots,’ said Sir Walter. To be included in the study, not only will a person have to have lived in one rural locality, but his or her parents and grandparents will also have been residents of that neighbourhood.
The study will hope to answers questions about what influences the Celts, Saxons, Normans, and others had on the genetic makeup of present day populations, and how this might influence the various ailments we are prone to.
‘We will look for about 2,000 genetic variations or markers in our subjects,’ said Sir Walter. ‘We will look at how common a particular piece of DNA is in one group of people compared with those who have lived in another area. That will provide us with enough data to pinpoint the key genetic influences involved in shaping the British people. It will also help us to determine which variants of common genes are associated with which common illnesses.’