In the historical/fantasy TV drama Indio, the lead character, an indio
(native Filipino), is played by a Filipino actor who looks Chinese. The main antagonist, a Spaniard, is portrayed by a Filipino actor of Swiss German descent. This is just one instance that begs the basic, yet confounding, question, “Who/what exactly is a Filipino?”
For P5 million, we can actually find out. By sequencing our genome, it’s possible to determine what the Filipino is exactly made of, genetically speaking.
New York University dean of science Dr. Michael Parungganan
, a Filipino-American genomics expert, says that a local genome project would allow us to “see who we really are, to tell the story of who we are.” By analyzing the Filipino DNA, we should be able to determine “what makes us different.” A clear understanding of our ancestry and genetics will “revolutionize how we see ourselves and treat our diseases.”
Generations of colonialism, migration and intermarriages between native Filipinos and foreigners have resulted in almost every one of us being “mixtures of Taiwanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Arab, Spanish, probably some American and British [in] different degrees,” according to Parungganan. In an essay published online, he wrote, “We are all mixes…We are products of what we evolutionary genomicists call genetic admixture…We are, in a genetic sense, a truly global people.”
Proposing a limited study that would look into the DNA of 10 Filipinos from different areas of the country and tribal groups, Parungganan hopes that an all-Filipino team would undertake the research that he estimates to cost P5 million. However, he asserts that 100 subjects would yield “very good” results. But of course, that would cost 10 times more.
“We do have in the country people who can do it,” he points out, citing the Philippine Genome Center at the `University of the Philippines as the laboratory of choice because it has the equipment needed to conduct genome sequencing and other project requirements, which he lauds as “impressive” and “at par” with those used at top universities overseas. The lab has expressed interest in launching the study.
Parungganan further urges the government and private foundations to assist in funding the project, which will help us “find out what makes us different from all those mixtures,” as well as allow us to discover the genetic mutations and diseases we might have.