Minggu, 22 Agustus 2010

Kidney Disease and African Sleeping Sickness

Natural selection can actually favor an otherwise harmful allele of a gene, if that allele somehow confers a survival advantage in some individuals and populations. The one textbook example of this phenomenon has always been sickle cell disease, a genetically inherited disease that results in deformed red blood cells and can lead to early death. Sickle cell disease is prevalent in persons of African ancestry because the allele that causes sickle cell disease also protects the person with that allele from malaria, a disease which is widespread in Africa.

Now there’s a second example of this phenomenon. Researchers have found that two different alleles for a gene involved in the production of a blood protein can; a) lead to kidney disease, and b) protect against the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness. Not surprisingly, the two abnormal alleles and the kidney diseases they cause are four to five times more common in African Americans than in persons of European descent.

Researchers are wondering how many other genetic diseases we’ll find that also confer protective advantages against certain infectious diseases. Researchers are also hoping to develop new treatments for African sleeping sickness that are based on the proteins these abnormal alleles produce.

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