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Racial groupings match genetic profiles, Stanford study finds

STANFORD, Calif. - Checking a box next to a racial/ethnic category gives several pieces of information about people - the continent where their ancestors were born, the possible color of their skin and perhaps something about their risk of different diseases. But a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that the checked box also says something about a person's genetic background.

This work comes on the heels of several contradictory studies about the genetic basis of race. Some found that race is a social construct with no genetic basis while others suggested that clear genetic differences exist between people of different races.

What makes the current study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, more conclusive is its size. The study is by far the largest, consisting of 3,636 people who all identified themselves as either white, African-American, East Asian or Hispanic. Of these, only five individuals had DNA that matched an ethnic group different than the box they checked at the beginning of the study. That's an error rate of 0.14 percent.

According to Neil Risch, PhD, a UCSF professor who led the study while he was professor of genetics at Stanford, the findings are particularly surprising given that people in both African-American and Hispanic ethnic groups often have a mixed background. "We might expect these individuals to cross several different genetic clusters," Risch said. This is especially true for Hispanics who are often a mix of Native American, white and African-American ancestry. But that's not what the study found. Instead, each self-identified racial/ethnic group clumped into the same genetic cluster.

The people in this research were all part of a study on the genetics of hypertension, recruited at 15 locations within the United States and in Taiwan. This broad distribution is important because it means that the results are represe
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Contact: Amy Adams
amyadams@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center
27-Jan-2005


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