Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Human Families

Originally uploaded by ALifeAllah.
There is the original and then there is that which came from the original. There is the Black man (Black, Brown, Yellow) and then there is the White man. In the days following the posting of this article below I will express a little bit in terms of my Understanding of Asiatic, the seeds/soils, race (social/physical/cultural construction), phenotype, genotype and why the hell it even matters in the year 2005. To start it off though I would like to post this article that was in the New Haven Register on April 9, 2005.

*Note: This picture is from the tomb of Seti I (1394 BC-1279 BC). It corresponds to the seed breakdown that much of the Nation of Gods and Earths uses which is Black, Brown, Yellow (all original/aboriginal/'shades' of BLACK) and White. In the picture above you would have white, black, yellow, and brown.

Genetically, race matters in illness
Abram Katz, Register Science Editor

After a century marked by prejudice, massacres, hate crimes and genocide, scientists concluded in the late 1990s that "race" is nothing but a cultural invention.

Humans emerged from Africa and everyone — from Swedish blonde to dark Australian aborigine — was too genetically similar to divide into discrete racial groups, geneticists declared.

But now, reputable journals are publishing studies on skin color, ethnicity and a range of diseases.

Race is back.

• A study in The New England Journal of Medicine told us that African-American and native Hawaiian smokers are more susceptible to lung cancer than whites.

• The American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology carried a study showing that whites have three times more of a suspected carcinogen in their blood than Hispanics.

• Hepatology, the journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, reported that Hispanics have a higher risk of fatty liver disease than whites, while the risk for blacks was lower.

Race has indeed returned, doctors, geneticists, epidemiologists and other experts agreed.

This is not the old baseless race of Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid of the 1850s or the pernicious Arab, Jewish, and Irish races of the early 1900s. It has no connection to the Eugenics movement of the 1920s and ’30s, or the catastrophic "master race" of Nazi Germany.

Then what is race in the 21st century?

Race is a reflection of ancient humans separating into geographically isolated groups, scientists said. Superficial traits such as skin color are a rough indication of origin, said Dr. Kenneth K. Kidd, professor of genetics and psychiatry at Yale and a recognized authority in human population genetics and evolution.

Skin color, facial features, hair, and stature are all on a continuum from the darkest African to the lightest Scandinavian, so humans do not naturally fall into "racial" groups, he said.

"Light is a continuum, but red, green and yellow are not the same. I cannot define where one race ends and another starts. But there is a distribution," he said.

A native of Stockholm is obviously different than a person born in Nigeria, he said.

"The vast number of differences are superficial," Kidd said.

However, disease genes seem to arise in geographical locations, he said, which is why certain traits develop and why they tend to be associated with outward appearance, he said.

Sickle cell trait is an often-used illustration, Kidd said. The mutation arose and thrived in Africa because it helps protect against malaria. "There are a lot of rare disorders confined to different parts of the world," he said.

When Africans were brought to the New World as slaves they carried the sickle cell gene.

Consequently, sickle cell is more common among African Americans. Thalassemia is another genetic blood abnormality that apparently appeared in the Mediterranean, also to protect against malaria.

"What’s important is not race, as if that were unambiguous, but ancestry. In the United States, the common idea of race — Asian, black, white — are surrogates for different geographic reasons," Kidd said.

The development of different skin colors is probably a response to environment. But other differences are purely random, Kidd said.

"All versions were present in Africa, but they were rare. They become common in other places," he said.

Once traits, such as a broad nose and thick lips appear, they become the standard of beauty in the culture, Kidd said. "People as a group tend to make themselves more similar," he said. The new trait then persists as a sexual attractant, he said.

Since the theoretical time when different characteristics developed, disparate groups have met and had children. For example, 20 to 30 percent of American blacks have a European Y chromosome because male slave owners impregnated slaves.

For this reason "black, Asian, white and Latino" describe groups with tremendous genetic variability.

"We’re all unique. Our differences amount to less than 0.5 percent of the genome. We’re all unique, but almost all identical," Kidd said.

Richard P. Lifton, professor and chairman of genetics at Yale, said skin color and other "racial" traits are of little use in predicting susceptibility to disease.

"Using skin as a proxy for genes is weak because of the admixture of genes," he said.

Studying the genes of populations and small groups could reveal important information about the genetic and environmental components of diseases and conditions, he said.

The United States, Canada, China, Japan, United Kingdom and Nigeria are currently assembling a genetic "map" that promises to pinpoint genetic variations in populations and locate disease-causing genes.

The International Haplotype Map is based on the 10 million or so common variations in the human genome. Certain variations, or haplotypes, may be associated with diseases. Ultimately, the map should permit scientists to identify abnormal genes within populations and establish the corresponding risk of disease, Lifton said.

The "HapMap" project is raising ethical concerns because researchers may find a disease-causing gene in a percentage of a specific population. The entire group may then be tagged as carriers of a disease.

"Finally, the results of the project could be misinterpreted to imply that constructs such as ‘race’ are precise and highly meaningful biological categories," the consortium of countries warns on its Web site.

"In fact, the information emerging from the project is helping to demonstrate that common ideas about race emerge largely from social and cultural interactions and are only loosely connected to biological ancestry," project scientists maintain.

Lifton said, "There clearly will be some huge advances from studies of small numbers of people. Most diseases seem to follow in families. Finding the genes might reveal the environmental factors" that convert susceptibility into disease, he said.

Scientists have already identified 16 genes that drive blood pressure up or down, he said. Africans in the low-salt Sahara might have benefited from genes that kept excess salt from escaping, Lifton said.

This could explain why blacks in the salt-rich U.S. have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, he said.

The result could be that insurance companies apply the genetic qualities of some to the entire group and raise rates for all African Americans, he said.

"We have to be sure we’ve learned the lessons of the past, of Eugenics and racial discrimination. Otherwise we’re too stupid a species to advance our understanding," Lifton said.

Associating genes, populations and the risk for diseases is fraught with difficulty, said Neil Risch, director of the Center for Human Genetics at the University of California at San Francisco.

Separating cultural and ethnic factors from genetic predisposition is often not feasible, he said.

"Is race biological? Sociological? Men and woman are biologically different. Women have more breast cancer," he said, but this does not mean that being a woman causes breast cancer.

Breast cancer is believed to have genetic and environmental causes. "There are correlations that are not biological. There can be an association between an outcome and a variable, but it is not necessarily causal," Risch said.

The inherently confusing nature of what we now call race makes it likely that stereotypes and other damaging misconceptions will continue, said Thiruchandurai Rajan, professor of pathology and immunology at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

"There are variations in genes in separate groups because of the environment and sometimes by chance. The data are very clear. Genotypic difference has a genetic basis," he said.

"Humans confuse features of one person in a group to all of the group. Some blacks have a higher risk of high blood pressure, but not all blacks have it, and not all whites don’t," Rajan said.

"It is very difficult for people to grasp that a risk factor does not belong to all the members of a group," he said.

And as groups, "Latino," "white" and "black" are so genetically divergent that they carry little meaning, Rajan said.

"At this point, we’re very early in determining what groups are meaningful. Ultimately, we’ll probably define smaller and smaller groups that are more homogenous," he said.

"Right now ‘race’ is the best way to study genetic differences. Now we’re casting a very wide net, with ‘whites,’ ‘blacks,’ and ‘Latinos.’ The differences between the groups are statistically significant, but small. Intra-group variations are too large to make generalizations," Rajan said.

"We humans are a lot like dogs. If you saw a Pomeranian and a great Dane it might be difficult to see that they belong to the same species," Rajan said. "They’ve been bred to be different. People, because of different environmental states, have differences, too."

©New Haven Register 2006

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