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Genome project finds evidence of Vietnamese people’s roots in Africa

Wednesday, July 17, 2019, 17:41 GMT+7
Genome project finds evidence of Vietnamese people’s roots in Africa
A group of young Vietnamese people are seen in this photo taken in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

There is evidence to support the scientific hypothesis that people from Africa who settled in Southeast Asia millennia ago were ancestors of modern-day Vietnamese people, according to initial results of a years-long project to decode the Vietnamese genome.

The project, ‘Research on the Vietnamese Genome,' was conducted by a team of scientists from the Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology (VRISG), a research arm of Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup.

Launched in 2016, the ambitious project was intended to create the first massive database of Vietnamese genomes by decoding those of 305 healthy Kinh (Vietnamese) people and analyzing data of 101 previously published genomes.

The research concluded in late 2018 and its results were first published in Human Mutation, a peer-reviewed medical journal of human genetics, in May 2019.

It was not until this week that the research results were made public in Vietnam.

According to the VRISG research, the Vietnamese genome is different from those of other populations, which is reflected in the large difference in the frequency of occurrence of many genetic changes.

Specifically, researchers found that 1.24 million genetic changes appear regularly in the genome of Vietnamese people, but they are discovered very rarely in other populations.

For instance, compared to the international database of 1,000 human genomes, about one-third of the genetic variations in the Vietnamese population do not occur in the Han Chinese population and vice versa.

A group of modern humans from Africa who had migrated from the continent 200,000 years ago settled in Southeast Asia, including areas that are now parts of Vietnam, about 40,000-60,000 years ago.

These early settlers are believed to be the ancestors of modern-day Vietnamese people, according to data from the VRISG genome research, contrary to a previous hypothesis that Vietnamese people trace their ancestry to the Han Chinese people of northern China.

“The results have helped clarify the ancestral origin of Vietnamese people, which has been a sensitive issue giving rise to a debate in the context of a lack of objective evidence that is based on genomic research,” said VRISG director Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem, who headed the genome research project.

The data also confirms that Vietnamese and Thai people have high homology in genomes and close evolutionary relationships.

"Genetic data closely relates to health and pathology and can contribute to the treatment of cancers and genetic diseases, especially when individualized medicine is on the rise,” Liem said. 

"Decoding the Vietnamese genome would facilitate the development of methods for early detection of cencerous genes and treating metabolic disorders, drug allergy as well as genetic diseases,"        

The Vietnamese genome database created by these Vinmec scientists is the largest of its kind to date.

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