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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 04:04 GMT
Company acquires island gene pool
South Pacific island
Island communities offer rewards for gene hunters
By the BBC's John Duce

A biotechnology company has acquired the exclusive rights to research the genetic make-up of people living on the South Pacific island of Tonga.

Researchers at Melbourne-based Autogen want to study the remote community to trace the genes that cause particular diseases.

The biotechnology wing of the Australian company will take DNA and blood samples from among Tonga's 108,000 inhabitants.

Populations on remote islands are ideal for genetic researchers because their communities are fairly static and families can easily trace back their family trees over several generations.

As a result, scientists can more easily identify which genes are linked to common diseases and how they spread through the community over time.

Gene hunters

It is not known how much, if anything, Autogen has paid the authorities in Tonga for the right to carry out the tests.

But the company has promised that if the genetic research leads to any new, patented drugs or treatments, the people of Tonga will share in the profits.

Some of the firm's main research interests include diabetes and obesity. Both conditions are prevalent on the South Pacific island.

This is not the first time that biotechnology companies have acquired the exclusive rights to study relatively close communities.

Iceland, which also has had a comparatively settled community over generations, has given a medical research company access to the island's medical and genealogical records.

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04 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Iceland exploits its genetic history
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