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Aotearoa New Zealand genomic variome

DNA graphic

Genomics diagnosis in human health in Aotearoa is hampered because most of our understanding of genomic variation associated with disease comes from studies on Western European and East Asian populations. We are not sure if variants identified elsewhere have similar health relevance for the population of Aotearoa, while some variants with a major role in resilience or susceptibility to disease here don’t always have similar relevance in other parts of the world.  

Understanding the unique variation in the Aotearoa population and its health consequences is essential for accurate diagnosis and the effective use of genomics in our own healthcare.

An Aotearoa New Zealand Variome is therefore needed to gather and analyse genomic variation in Aotearoa’s unique and increasingly diverse population.

The variome project is developing a genomic catalogue for Aotearoa. Researchers are currently sequencing the genomes of New Zealanders and identifying the variation inherent in these genomes to better document and understand variations within our population.

It’s important the outcomes of this research are equitable, benefit the wider community, and address concerns regarding ethical use and security of data.  Critical to this project is that it is Māori-led, with co-development of processes that ensure consenting is carried out effectively and appropriately, and that benefits from the data and kaitiakitanga are consistent with Te Ao Māori.

The project brings together researchers from four universities and Real Time Genomics Ltd, will work with Growing Up in New Zealand and other national projects, and will build on existing partnerships with iwi.


  • Develop a catalogue of genetic variants observed in New Zealanders
  • Build analytical capability in human variation to support future genomic diagnosis
  • Create links with diagnostic services in the health sector
  • Create links with existing research programmes


  • Dr Phil Wilcox (University of Otago) – co-lead researcher
  • Professor Stephen Robertson (University of Otago) – co-lead researcher
  • Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith (University of Otago)
  • Professor Murray Cox (Massey University)
  • Professor Tony Merriman (University of Otago)
  • Andrew Sporle (University of Auckland)
  • Dr Allamanda Faatoese (University of Otago)



Indigenous genomic databases: Pragmatic considerations and cultural contexts
NR Caron, M Chongo, M Hudson, L Arbour, WW Wasserman, S Robertson, S Correard, P Wilcox
Frontiers in Public Health, 8, 111, 2020,

Genomic medicine must reduce, not compound, health inequities: The case for hauora-enhancing genomic resources for New Zealand
S P Robertson, J Harré Hindmarsh, S Berry, V A Cameron, M P Cox, O Dewes, R N Doughty, G Gray, J C Jacobsen, A Laurence, E Matisoo-Smith, S Morton, A N Shelling, D Sika-Paotonu, A Rolleston, J R Skinner, R G Snell, A Sporle, C Print, T R Merriman, M Hudson, P Wilcox
New Zealand Medical Journal, 131(1480), 81-89, 2018