Baring Your Genes in Public—A Full Individual Human Genome Sequenced for the First Time


Would you want to know your genetic predisposition to alcoholism, coronary artery disease, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, antisocial behavior and conduct disorder? Genome pioneer Craig Venter now does and he is revealing to the whole world that he's got genes that make him more susceptible to them all. Venter and his team have for the first time sequenced a full (diploid) set of human chromosomes–his.

Part of the reason Venter is revealing his genetic information and his medical history is to advance science. As the Washington Post reports:

Venter and others hope that at that point many people will get sequenced and, as Venter has already done with his own, will post their genomes on public databases along with their medical information and family history. That will allow computers to start drawing connections between gene patterns and diseases.

Given the risks involved in such personal revelations, including job discrimination and health insurance woes, no one knows how many people will take that route.

And soon anybody may be able to get an affordable genome sequencing. Again the Post reports:

Cost trends are encouraging. The first 3 billion-letter genome sequences took more than a decade to complete and cost billions of dollars. During Venter's latest project, costs dropped precipitously, and today, several scientists said, an entire diploid genome could probably be done for about $100,000. Some predict that a $1,000 genome will be available within five years.

In addition, Venter's research finds that human genetic diversity is greater than once thought:

The order of building blocks along a strand of DNA encodes genetic information, somewhat like the way a sequence of letters creates a sentence. Particular sequences form genes. Landmark studies published in 2001 indicated that the DNA of any two people is about 99.9 percent alike. The new paper suggests estimates of 99.5 percent to just 99 percent, Venter said.

The Venter paper joins several others published over the past three to four years that indicate an estimate of around 99 percent, said Richard Gibbs, a DNA expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston who didn't participate in Venter's study.

The studies produce the lower figure because they uncovered chunks of DNA that differ among people, whereas previous studies focused on differences in individual building blocks.

The 99 percent figure is close to what scientists have often estimated for the similarity between humans and chimps. But the human-chimp similarity drops to more like 95 percent when the more recently discovered kinds of DNA variation are considered, Venter said.

By the way, anyone want to subsidize sequencing my genome? I would be happy to post it and my medical information on an appropriate scientific website.

See the study at PLoS Biology here.