What is the International HapMap Project?

The International HapMap Project is a scientific effort to identify common genetic variations among people. This project represents a collaboration of scientists from public and private organizations in six countries. Data from the project is freely available to researchers worldwide. Researchers can use the data to learn more about the relationship between genetic differences and human disease.

The HapMap (short for “haplotype map”) is a catalog of common genetic variants called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs (pronounced “snips”). Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block, called a nucleotide. These variations occur normally throughout a person’s DNA. When several SNPs cluster together on a chromosome, they are inherited as a block known as a haplotype. The HapMap describes haplotypes, including their locations in the genome and how common they are in different populations throughout the world.

The human genome contains roughly 10 million SNPs. It would be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to look at each of these changes and determine whether it plays a role in human disease. Using haplotypes, researchers can sample a selection of these variants instead of studying each one. The HapMap will make carrying out large-scale studies of SNPs and human disease (called genome-wide association studies) cheaper, faster, and less complicated.

The main goal of the International HapMap Project is to describe common patterns of human genetic variation that are involved in human health and disease. Additionally, data from the project will help researchers find genetic differences that can help predict an individual’s response to particular medicines or environmental factors (such as toxins.)