University of the Ryukyus research team finds distinct hereditary groups among Okinawan islands

University of the Ryukyus research team finds distinct hereditary groups among Okinawan islands

Pictured above is data based on the genome information of 4015 Okinawan participants, which Professor Shiro Maeda and his research group have analyzed. Colors have been added to indicate data of Miyako Island and Kume Island residents. (Picture provided by Professor Maeda)

November 21, 2018 Ryukyu Shimpo

A research team under Professor Shiro Maeda of the University of the Ryukyus Graduate School of Medicine made public that when compared genetically, people from Okinawa have a different genetic background than Japanese people from mainland Japan. Even within Okinawa, each region has several hereditary groups. Researchers are coming to understand how genetics affect a person’s susceptibility to illness and the efficacy of medicine. With further discoveries, medical treatments and preventative techniques could become personalized to the individual.

The team conducted medical evaluations on consenting participants in the study, and collected samples such as blood and saliva. They then analyzed all genetic data collected including genome DNA. This study is part of the prefectural Promotion Project for Implementation of Leading Edge Medical Treatment that was started in 2016. Over 10,000 participants have cooperated in the project. The genome data is anonymous and is collected alongside medical information, for the purpose of understanding how genetics relates to illnesses experienced and efficacy of medical treatments.
A human genome contains about 3 billion base pairs, 99.7 percent of which are common among all humankind. Only about 0.3 percent or 10 million base pairs vary, which are called SNPs (standing for “single nucleotide polymorphisms,” and pronounced “snips”). When the team analyzed the SNPs of 4015 participants, it was able to differentiate genetic groups among residents of Okinawa Island, Kume Island, and Miyako Island.

Furthermore, the team confirmed the birthplaces of particpants’ grandparents for data on Kume Island and Miyako Island residents. If the data concerning residents of one island was considered separately, the dispersion of SNP data decreased and seemed to amass into one hereditary group.

Professor Maeda said, “I did not expect for the differences to be defined by region. It is important to separate by region upon conducting detailed analysis.”

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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