Advocates say the study adds more evidence that Roma—known as Gypsies in Romania—are persecuted in many countries.
DNA testing and genetic studies reveal that Roma people have different genes, “leaving them vulnerable to genetic diseases and behavior impairments,” the scientists wrote. In humans, this also includes Neanderthal gene coding and something called “post-synaptic dispositional preferences,” meaning the ability to build preferences for eating certain foods or objects. (Neanderthals and modern humans could not share some of the same genes.)
The researchers used DNA and gene data from 27,712 Roma and 10,217 non-Roma people, and compared the populations. They found that a genetic variant called rs36390552 causes Roma people to be more susceptible to mental illnesses and abnormal levels of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They also found that the variant makes Roma men “less desirable mates,” according to the study. In general, the results are consistent with a number of biological studies examining Roma people’s vulnerability to diseases, according to scientists involved with the study. The results were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The researchers also compared the Roma people with non-Roma people, and found that “Roma-non-Roma females had no differences” from Roma men. Meanwhile, men with the genetic variant were “less likely to be potential partners for Roma women,” they said.
Scientists who co-authored the study say the findings extend beyond the potential threat of stigma and discrimination to their individual health and well-being. In the fall of 2018, Sophie Dore, an emergency medicine doctor at University Hospital in Prague, Czech Republic, published a study in PLOS Medicine that illustrated how discrimination and stereotypes about Roma people can affect people’s health, as seen in increased rates of obesity and diabetes. The researchers at the time called for increased research to help reverse the “growing scourge of Roma-biased health and development.” Dr. Melissa Hauptman, an associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, agreed, calling the study “concrete evidence” that Roma people are “potentially at higher risk for disease and disorders” than other groups. She said the analysis “should be a wake-up call for the medical community to further investigate and identify racial and ethnic minorities that exhibit genetic traits that may directly link to health and disease,” she said.
Roma people are not the only ones being accused of carrying out dangerous practices. In July 2018, members of the male-dominated Tuareg tribe of Mali were accused of cannibalism. But Togolese officials recently said there was no truth to the accusation, and that some of the claims came from a stolen tablet.
Read the full story at NPR and the The New York Times.
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