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Georgia Dunston, Genome Pioneer

Growing up in Virginia in the 1950s, Georgia Dunston looked at her segregated world and asked, "What makes people different?" As the founding director of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University, the pioneering geneticist ponders the biological answer: precious little. "99.9 percent of the 3.1 billion nucleotides [in the human genome] are identical between any two people anywhere in the world," she says. "That's how closely related the human family is." But variations do exist. In May 2003, Dunston announced the university's partnership with Chicago-based First Genetic Trust to establish GRAD (Genomic Research in the African Diaspora)—a biobank to trace genetic factors behind diseases such as diabetes and prostate cancer that disproportionately affect African Americans. "I think we'll learn some lessons on how life works by looking inside the cell, rather than outside the individual," she says. "Maybe this time we'll get it right." … Back to Article

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