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Enter the race

india Updated: Dec 29, 2006 00:19 IST

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Indians make up one-sixth of the world’s population. Spanning a wide geographical area, we are expected to have a staggering range of diversities — beyond language, culture, lifestyles — in our genetic make-up. However, fact remains that we seem to be susceptible to the same kinds of diseases, like heart conditions. This similarity has always been overlooked and recently inspired a team of scientists in the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, to make a gene catalogue of Indians and map genetic variations.

Pragna Patel and colleagues analysed 1,200 genome sites collected from 432 individuals representing 15 different Indian populations. The frequency with which particular variations appeared in all the samples prompted the research team to suggest that Indians may well be a separate race, beyond the Caucasian, Malay, Mongol and Negro. Er, weren’t we already? Apparently not. Although the suggestion that Indians form a distinct race has been mooted for several decades now by many scientists, the lack of data ensured that it remained a nebulous ‘belief’. Additionally, the rather fluid definition — essentially a biological term defining a ‘sub-species’ — made the matter not one of great import. But with Indian-specific gene mapping for the first time, there’s evidence to make this unity in diversity a genetic truism. The consequences lie in identifying race-specific vulnerabilities to disease, and hence work on their cure.

So now, Indians are into another race — the race to be a race. In a society fragmented by casteist politics, maybe racism of the genetic sort will at last bring us together. What better way to announce we have arrived?

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