More than five million people visit Lancaster County, Pa., annually. They crowd small towns to catch a glimpse of a Mennonite family on the way to church in a horse-drawn buggy, and they jam country backroads to marvel at an Amish farmer and his mule plowing a field. To many visitors harried by the pace of modern living, the Amish and Mennonites represent a simpler, purer, and more pious way of living. To others, they represent a rich source of scientific data.
Each year investigators in medical genetics and other disciplines descend on Lancaster County to inquire about family histories of disease and gather DNA samples from these plain people. A number of factors make the two groups appealing for research in medical genetics. Their religious conservatism and selective use of technology isolate them from the population at large. Extensive genealogical records kept by the Amish and Mennonites make...
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