Why the Acadians Are Important to Genetics

Judy LaBorde

Genetics is the study of inheritance. From our genes, we inherit eye color, height, as well as diseases that "run in the family." It is the only branch of medicine that by nature is multi-generational.

In order for scientists to find the genes that cause diseases, it is necessary to study family members and compare those who have the disease with those who do not. Special populations like the Acadians play a vital role in advancing this research. Similar populations are the Amish, Mennonites, Ashkenazi Jews and Mormons. Because of America's history as an immigrant nation, there are very few such populations in our contemporary nation of 275 million people.

The Acadians who came to Louisiana can trace their heritage to a small founding population of about 300. In order to survive, they tended to marry those who shared their language, religion, devotion to family. This cohesiveness combined with a strong oral and written tradition means that ancestors going back several hundred years can be identified.

The upshot for scientists is that the Acadians are a priceless resource for studying not only the diseases that have a higher frequency among them but also the myriad of diseases that affect the American population in general. What is learned about diabetes among the Acadians will help diabetics in general. Knowledge about the genetics of heart disease in Acadians will have strong implications for heart disease in America. Genetic studies of the Acadians become a microcosm for the larger society.