Prof Dr M Iqbal Choudhary, Director International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), Karachi University (KU), disclosed on Thursday that former Chairman, Higher Education Commission (HEC) Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rehman is the first Pakistani whose genome has been mapped by Pakistani scientists at a cost of $40,000 in just 10 months.
China has contributed $20,000 in the total cost of the genome project. Pakistani and Indian genomes have similarities compared to others, he said, while speaking at a press conference, held on Thursday at Dr Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine & Drug Research (PCMD), Karachi University (KU).
“Dr Atta has become the first Muslim man with this distinction, while he is the third one among a list of renowned people in the world whose genomes have been mapped by scientists. The names of the first two persons are Prof Watson and Dr Ventor (2007), while others are unnamed.
First, yes, it’s not accurate that Dr. Choudhary is the third person with a full sequence done. In fact poking around it looks like that the total is high enough, > 100, that it isn’t easy to find a nearly-comprehensive list anymore. What I found really amusing is that the piece emphasizes that this individual is the first Muslim to be sequenced. Does that really matter? I suppose to Muslims it does, but it just goes to show how real science can be driven by idiosyncratic ideological concerns. As Hume said, reason is the slave of passions.
Also, I think it is interesting that the article admitted that there were striking similarities between the genomes of Pakistanis and Indians. I’m one who is generally wary of trying to draw too many lessons from raw data, but over the years my posts have been used and abused by nationalists of various stripes. One set are Pakistani racists who argue strenuously for the biological distinction of Pakistanis from Indians (usually they’re misunderstanding my posts on lactase persistence) to reinforce their religious-nationalist prejudices. If the similarities of “Pakistani” and “Indian” genomes dampens this unpleasant line of thinking I won’t yammer on about the is-ought distinction for once.