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Nova Southeastern University Researcher Part of Team Planning on Mapping Genome of Russian Citizens

First-Ever Such Large Scale Genome Project Proposed for Russia



FORT LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla. – The list of countries and geographic regions that have been the subject of national population genome projects is extensive: the United States 1,000,000 Genomes Initiative; United Kingdom 100,000 Genomes Project; Asia Genomes; China; The Netherlands; and Qatar Genome Projects, to name just a few. All are committed to whole genome sequence from thousands of their citizens. In fact, nearly the entire globe is playing a role in human genome research by providing openly available whole genome sequences of tens of thousands of volunteers.

Russion Genome MapYet one vast region that occupies 1/10 of the earth’s landmass and 1/50 if its people has yet to participate in any such project – the Russian Federation. All that is about to change, thanks to a consortium of genetics researchers from Russia with some advice and urging from Stephen J. O’Brien, Ph.D., a professor and research director at Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography.

“When you look at a world genome representation map, there’s a huge swath of space that is absent from this research,” said O’Brien. “Mapping human genome diversity has enormous implications for medicine as well as natural human history, but we need to ensure that all areas of the world are part of the research. The ‘Genome Russia’ Project’s goal is to fill a large void in our understanding of human genetics.”

O’Brien said that the idea behind the new research is to create a “global reference resource” of genomes from 2,500 people from across Russia that will annotate all human genetic variation and provide a new way for disease variant discoveries. That’s why it’s so important to bring the Russian people into the fold – the rich background of genomic diversity in this part of the world is key to creating a more comprehensive DNA fingerprint of the human genetic mystery.

O’Brien splits his time between NSU and the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics in St. Petersburg, Russia, which he directs and founded in early 2012; he is coordinating a large consortium that will be undertaking this important work.

The Genome Russia Consortium wants to study the genetic make-up of Russian citizens because the area played a role throughout human history in terms of migratory patterns for our species. Our most ancient ancestors moved through the area we call Russia toward many areas, including Northern and Central Europe, as well as the northward and westward expansion of the Indo-Europeans and the Uralic people, the westward expansion of the Turkic people, and centuries of ad-mixture between them. The pre-historic migration diaspora have created a complex patchwork of human diversity that is today’s Russia and somewhere hidden in Siberia reside the ancestral roots for modern Native Americans.

In the way more distant past around 30,000-45,000 years ago, gene exchange likely occurred between modern humans, Homo sapiens and the Neanderthal and Denisovan populations they encountered. The genetic contribution of the Neanderthal has not been well studied beyond Western Europe; nor has that of the Denisovan for South East Asia, despite their physical remains being unearthed in Siberia. Russian populations very likely contain ancestral components that aren’t easily found in other genomic databases. O’Brien and his team suggest that’s why Russia needs a national genome project on its own.         

“Without this information, we won’t have a truly comprehensive genomic picture of human existence,” O’Brien said. “We’ll be venturing into uncharted territory, and for research scientists that’s always exciting.”


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About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): Located in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a dynamic research institution dedicated to providing high-quality educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional degree levels. A private, not-for-profit institution with more than 24,000 students, NSU has campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, while maintaining a presence online globally. For more than 50 years, NSU has been awarding degrees in a wide range of fields, while fostering groundbreaking research and an impactful commitment to community. Classified as a research university with “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is 1 of only 37 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification, and is also the largest private, not-for-profit institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Please visit for more information.


About NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography: The college provides high-quality undergraduate and graduate (master’s and doctoral degrees and certificates) education programs in a broad range of disciplines, including marine sciences, mathematics, biophysics, and chemistry. Researchers carry out innovative basic and applied marine research programs in coral reef biology, ecology, and geology; fish biology, ecology, and conservation; shark and billfish ecology; fisheries science; deep-sea organismal biology and ecology; invertebrate and vertebrate genomics, genetics, molecular ecology, and evolution; microbiology; biodiversity; observation and modeling of large-scale ocean circulation, coastal dynamics, and ocean atmosphere coupling; benthic habitat mapping; biodiversity; histology; and calcification. The college’s newest building is the state-of-the-art Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, an 86,000-square-foot structure filled with laboratories; offices; seminar rooms; an auditorium; and indoor and outdoor running sea water facilities. Please visit for more information.


January 6, 2016

Joe Donzelli | Office of Public Affairs
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