Mental illness is a growing public health problem. In 2019, an estimated 1 in 8 people around the world were affected by mental disorders like depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. While scientists have long known that many of these disorders run in families, their genetic basis isn’t entirely clear. One reason why is that the majority of existing genetic data used in research is overwhelmingly from white people.
In 2003, the Human Genome Project generated the first “reference genome” of human DNA from a combination of samples donated by upstate New Yorkers, all of whom were of European ancestry. Researchers across many biomedical fields still use this reference genome in their work. But it doesn’t provide a complete picture of human genetics. Someone with a different genetic ancestry will have a number of variations in their DNA that aren’t captured by the reference sequence.
When most of the world’s ancestries are not represented in genomic data sets, studies won’t be able to provide a true representation of how diseases manifest across all of humanity. Despite this, ancestral diversity in... see more