DNA COLLECTION EVENTS  


Overview

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The Cobb Research Laboratory is hosting workshops throughout 2017-2018 to collect DNA samples from saliva from individuals of African descent and obtain information on their ancestry and health. This is part of DNA Day. Talks on the topic will be given, information on genetics and genomics distributed, and African-centered cultural events provided. The research goal of the DNA collection is to generate a comprehensive African genomic reference database and the educational goal of the supplemental activities is to raise community awareness of the role of ancestry in the development of precision medicine. In addition to the human DNA sample collected, a second saliva sample will be collected from participants to determine the salivary microbiome present in the same individuals for whom we will have ancestry and health information. This will create the first African-descended human microbiome reference database and will allow researchers to evaluate the phenotypic impact of their microbiome status and its correlation with their genotype. The initiative to do this DNA collection at Howard University is expected to have important positive educational implications for the local community by elevating their knowledge of genetics, genomics, and Africa and increasing their interest in these topics and their relevance to identity, ancestry, and overall health.


What is planned?

A series of workshops will be held during throughout 2017 and 2018 to collect DNA samples from saliva from individuals of African descent and obtain information on their ancestry and health. Talks on the topic will be given, information on genetics and genomics distributed, and African-centered cultural events provided. The research goal of the DNA collection is to generate a comprehensive African genomic reference database and the educational goal of the supplemental activities is to raise community awareness of the role of ancestry in the development of precision medicine. In addition to the human DNA sample collected, a second saliva sample will be collected from participants to determine the salivary microbiome present in the same individuals for whom we will have ancestry and health information. This will create the first African-descended human microbiome reference database and will allow researchers to evaluate the phenotypic impact of their microbiome status and its correlation with their genotype. The initiative to do this DNA collection at Howard University is expected to have important positive educational implications for the local community by elevating their knowledge of genetics, genomics, and Africa and increasing their interest in these topics and their relevance to identity, ancestry, and overall health.


Why are we working with National Geographic?


     The proposed project is consistent with the educational and research missions of the National Geographic Society. On the educational front, the project will broaden community literacy in genetics, genomics, and Africa. The project will enhance STEM knowledge among participants and accentuate the interrelationships of geospatial location, genetic ancestry, and ethnic identity. National Geographic has a long and distinguished history of studying such interrelationships and effectively presenting these to the public.
     As a contribution to research, the proposed project will provide the foundations for a much-needed genomic reference database for improved interpretations of ancestral genetic information on peoples of African descent. Indeed, the proper collection and analysis of the anticipated samples has the potential to provide additional new insights into recent human evolution. National Geographic has often been at the forefront in illuminating new developments in the human story, and the proposed research will benefit from National Geographic’s expertise in the interdisciplinary interpretation of the reference database.     
 

Why are we doing this?

     African human genomic diversity is highly understudied and yet it forms the foundation for subsequent sophisticated applied work in genetics and genomics of relevance to people of African descent (e.g., pharmacogenomics, metabolomics, epigenomics, proteomics, gene-environment interactions, etc.). By developing a comprehensive African reference genomic database (our goal), we are providing an appropriate comparative foundation for future genetic and genomic research.  In addressing the educational goal of increasing community awareness, we are developing a bridge between the scientists and the lay community and making the relevance of the science better known and appreciated. Over the past semester, the Cobb Research Laboratory has hosted an interdisciplinary team of scholars investigating mathematical and ecological models of African genomic diversity. This team has been charged with developing sampling algorithms for various ecological and ethnographic regions of continental Africa and the Diaspora. The initial purpose of the proposed workshop and DNA screening event is to provide actual genomic data from local African-descended individuals originally from various regions of continental Africa and the Diasporas to allow testing of these algorithms. Since the interpretation of genomic data does not exist within a vacuum, developing links with the various stakeholder communities will improve the quality of the research, bring more future scientists into the research process, and engage the community in appreciating genetic and genomic knowledge over an extended period.


     Additionally, this research will provide unique data on the salivary microbiome in local African-descended individuals originating from Africa, the Caribbean, Central, South, and North America and from the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. Data on this microbiome will be analyzed along with the human genomic patterns data to provide a comprehensive set of information on a unique and heretofore inadequately represented population in the scientific literature. 


     The lack of adequate information on peoples of African descent has been a major disincentive to their participation in biomedical studies and genetic/genomic surveys. Through our outreach initiatives, we have already found support for the proposed Workshop and DNA Collection event with the Howard University African Students Association, International PALs, the Howard University chapter of Sigma Xi, Howard University’s National Human Genome Center, and the departments of Human Genetics in the College of Medicine and Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences (Howard University). We are currently seeking links with additional community and university groups (e.g., Howard University’s Caribbean Students Association, various local civic groups, embassies and cultural centers representing diverse countries from Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central and South America, etc.). Our aim is to broadly connect to the culturally rich communities of the greater Washington DC area to assure that our educational message is widely proliferated and sustained and that the research goal of creating a geospatially comprehensive database are realized.