Scientists have discovered a dramatic variation in the genetic make-up of humans that could lead to a fundamental reappraisal of what causes incurable diseases and could provide a greater understanding of mankind.
The discovery has astonished scientists studying the human genome – the genetic recipe of man. Until now it was believed the variation between people was due largely to differences in the sequences of the individual ” letters” of the genome.
It now appears much of the variation is explained instead by people having multiple copies of some key genes that make up the human genome.
Until now it was assumed that the human genome, or “book of life”, is largely the same for everyone, save for a few spelling differences in some of the words. Instead, the findings suggest that the book contains entire sentences, paragraphs or even whole pages that are repeated any number of times.
The findings mean that instead of humanity being 99.9 per cent identical, as previously believed, we are at least 10 times more different between one another than once thought – which could explain why some people are prone to serious diseases.
The studies published today have found that instead of having just two copies of each gene – one from each parent – people can carry many copies, but just how many can vary between one person and the next.
The studies suggest variations in the number of copies of genes is normal and healthy. But the scientists also believe many diseases may be triggered by an abnormal loss or gain in the copies of some key genes.
Another implication of the finding is that we are more different to our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, than previously assumed from earlier studies. Instead of being 99 per cent similar, we are more likely to be about 96 per cent similar.
23 Nov 2006