First Arab human genome sequenced

1 October 2008

An international consortium consisting of Saudi Biosciences, Beijing Genomics Institute Shenzhen, and CLC bio have sequenced and analysed the first Arab human genome. The sequencing is part of a large project to sequence 100 Arab human genomes to map the unique genetic variations of the Arab population.

His Royal Highness Prince Ahmad bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Head of the Board of Directors at Saudi Biosciences, said “This marks the first milestone in our goal to pioneer the personalized medicine era in the Arab world, and the next step is to lead a large project to sequence 100 Arab genomes at high resolution no later than the end of 2010. Our ambitions are to make this project go beyond similar international efforts, both in terms of quality and quantity”

Dr Saeed Hussain from Saudi Bio Sciences, said, “We are extremely proud to present the first Arab human genome. This project launches the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in to the small circle of nations who are currently in the process of building sophisticated databases of human genetic variation. This database is fundamental in the process of analyzing and understanding the specific genetic makeup of Arabs, which in turn will provide key knowledge to improve medical care for this large group of people.”

Saudi Biosciences launched this project early 2008 and set up the  collaboration with Beijing Genomics Institute and CLC bio. High quality sequencing of the genome was generated using Illumina’s Genome Analyzer platform. The data was then assembled and analysed using CLC bio’s CLC Genomics Workbench.

The results show unique variants of the Arab genome compared to African, European and Asian genomes. The data is currently confidential but will be released following publication.

“The fact that Saudi Biosciences have selected CLC bio among all the potential software providers, emphasizes that we are the world's leading provider of genomics software solutions. We could think of no better opportunity to refine our software solutions, than a project like this, which is truly at the forefront of genomics research. This is indeed a unique and visionary project that we are excited and proud to be a part of.” said the Director of Scientific Solutions at CLC bio, Dr Roald Forsberg.


One of the most important goals of modern medicine and genetic research is the goal of tailoring medical care to an individual's needs, based on information from the individual's genotype or gene expression profile, so-called personalised medicine. Personalised medicine can offer huge advances in medical care but can only succeed if the genetic variation of humans can be accurately mapped.

The advent of a new generation of experimental techniques has given biomedical researchers the opportunity to map the complete genetic variation of large numbers of humans via full genome sequencing. The data produced will provide an unparalleled amount of information that can be used to distinguish the unique groups within the human race, and help tailor medical care that targets the specific needs of different populations and individuals. Personalised medicine is thus on the brink of a major breakthrough.

However, exisiting projects have aimed at characterizing mainly three populations — Africans, Europeans and Asians. This means that an accurate characterization and discovery of genetic variation in the Arab people can not be immediately expected and that the Arab populations may receive less of the benefits that will follow the advancement of personalized medicine.

This is why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wanted to start building an Arab human genomics database now, in order to scientifically explore the unique genetic composition in the Arab world. The database is fundamental in the process of analyzing and recognizing the distinct genetic makeup of Arabs, which in turn can provide knowledge to help stratify disease status, select between different medications and tailor their dosage, provide a specific therapy for an individual's disease, or initiate a preventative measure that is particularly suited to that patient at the time of administration.

His Royal Highness Prince Ahmad bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Head of the Board of Directors at Saudi Biosciences, said, “The Arab world was never an active participant in the large international projects in the field of genomics, and we believe that this should change. Working with an international collaborator such as Beijing Genomics Institute, an advanced institute in genomics studies, and CLC bio, the leaders in bioinformatics solutions with their recently released CLC Genomics workbench, we plan to participate actively in international efforts towards understanding the genomics basis of human diseases.”

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