Genizon BioSciences, a private firm in Quebec with about 135 employees, has been awarded $31 million from the Dutch venture capital firm Biotechnology Turnaround Fund to uncover associations between genes and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
There are a number of companies concentrating on the correlation between genetics and disease, but the reason that Genizon BioSciences stood out to me is the source of the DNA that the company studies. Genizon uses DNA from descendants of the Quebec Founder Population. This population began with roughly 2,600 individuals who settled Quebec between 1608 and 1760 (although more than 15,000 French had immigrated to Quebec in this period, the vast majority continued to travel westward across Canada) and is estimated to be over 6 million people today. Genizon uses this unique population for a number of beneficial reasons, including:
- There has been very little intermarriage with English populations, resulting in minimal gene dilution – an estimated 68% of the gene pool is derived from the 2,600 founders!
- Fewer variations for known diseases, making existing variations easier to find;
- The large population makes recruiting easier.
- And according to the website: “The and the UniversitÃ© de MontrÃ©al’s comprehensively document the genealogy of the vast majority of the Quebec Founder Population from founding to modern times. Access to these databases supports the gene discovery process.”
I was particularly interested in this population because I happen to a descendant of a number of Quebec founders through my paternal grandfather (whose Y-DNA is currently being analyzed by DNA Ancestry – I’ll be sure to share these results when I get them back). Individuals can volunteer to be part of the project, but all four of their grandparents must be French Canadian from Quebec.
Genizon has already had success in this field of study, previously discovering multiple genes that are associated with Crohn’s disease (See Genome-wide association study for Crohn’s disease in the Quebec Founder Population identifies multiple validated disease loci (pdf)).
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