The Mexican Biobank is developing the first genetic resource of its scope outside Europe and North America, with six thousand samples being processed in the current iteration of the project. The learning that will be secured through this project will be of benefit to the public health of the Mexican population, the wider human genetics research community, and the study of human evolution. The Biobank generated and analyzed fully in Mexico is part of a larger process of un-layering Mexican identity and biology. The output of our data analyses will open up new paths for local research and training, and as a result, a more global science and view of human health and evolution, which will be of benefit to all.
A population as structured and admixed as the Mexicans is predicted to have an equally structured burden of cardiometabolic and infectious disease. The genome-wide association studies that we are undertaking will reveal genetic determinants of response to local infectious agents in various Mexican sub-populations. Our statistical analyses will document genetic variants private to populations and ancestries that may be protective for or associated with certain pathogens and diseases. Putative biomedical targets that will be discovered such can be the subject of downstream research programs to develop population-specific drugs and vaccines. Further, our genetic catalog, the first of its kind in Mexico, will aid the development of tailored and personalized genetic counseling and medicine. A structured population like the Mexicans requires the deep cataloging we are doing for its genetic tapestry to be revealed, and for the unique needs of each of its subpopulations to be understood and met. Through the creation of this nation-wide genomic resource, the undertaking of targeted workshops to train local researchers in its use, and the variety of downstream research and public-health projects it will propel, the Mexican Biobank will accelerate genomic research and health-related data science within Mexico.
Globally, human genetics and medical researchers have had to rely primarily on populations of European descent to make predictions regarding the genetic architecture of complex traits in global populations. Moreover, models of human demography, migrations and natural selection have primarily been calibrated on data from European genomes. Increasingly, researchers are finding biases that have resulted from ascertainment of most samples and genetic variants in only European descent populations [1,2]. The Mexico Biobank will provide an important and timely resource to test the robustness of existing evolutionary and statistical genetics models. Moreover, it will allow us to develop genetic models and methods for admixed populations, and provide a powerful training and prediction set that currently does not exist.
Lastly, and importantly, the study of the mechanisms and history of human evolution will be aided by this unique dataset. The dynamics of linked deleterious and beneficial genetic variants through episodes of admixture between distinct populations, bottlenecks due to migrations to new terrains, and localized environmental influences are not yet well understood, and this rich new dataset will provide a well-suited avenue for their empirical study. The role of admixture in local adaptation to new environments, and in purifying selection against deleterious mutations, still needs to be unraveled and the Biobank provides an unprecedented opportunity to do so due to the unique nature of the Mexican population. Moreover, we will be able to estimate and time demographic and admixture events in the history of the Americas. These analyses will not only add to our overall knowledge of human biology and evolution, but also to the specific self-knowledge and sovereignty of the Mexican population and sub-populations, each with their own complex narrative and identity.