Orkney, Shetland DNA sought

A Scottish genetic study is extending its reach to Dunedin.

Researchers have issued a plea for people with at least two grandparents who were born in Orkney or Shetland to contact them about taking part in the project.

The two remote island groups off Scotland’s northeast coast have long interested scientists as their distance from the mainland meant they had a small, stable and distinct genetic population.

Lead researcher Jim Wilson, himself an Orcadian, had already researched the genetic make-up of islanders still living in the far north or on the British mainland.

For Viking II, the second stage of the project, Prof Wilson targeted centres known to have been major destinations for migrants from the islands, such as Dunedin, Chicago and Saskatchewan.

‘‘Adding 4000 more volunteers from these special populations will increase the scope and impact of our research into the genetics of health and disease,’’ he said.

‘‘We hope in the long term, this will bring us a better
understanding which is the basis of new approaches to treat or prevent disease.’’

Participants were asked to provide a saliva sample to be analysed by researchers, including genetic sequencing.

Prof Smith and his team hoped the ancestral make-up of the islands’ population would help them understand if there were any general genetic traits which contributed to diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer.

Doctors had also looked at specific health issues, such as whether the islanders’ genes were a factor in the high rate of
multiple sclerosis in the Orkney and Shetland population.

‘‘The unique genetic identity of those with northern isles ancestry offers a rare opportunity to give a detailed picture on how genes are implicated in health,’’ Prof Wilson said.

As an example, examining Prof Wilson’s father’s DNA showed he descended 18 different ways from one man born in 1708.

He said while someone from the mainland should have 64 ancestors, his father and other islanders only had 20.

Prof Wilson’s primary efforts had been health-related, but
samples provided for the first Viking project had offered insights into how a close genetic relationship between parents could affect a child’s height, weight, and other statistics.

The research also contributed to charting a genetic map of Scotland which, among other things, offered evidence as to how extensive Viking settlements had been.

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