High coverage second thoughts

1 minute read

Vicki Lewis writes a worthwhile post: <a href=http://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/2012/11/01/why-i-dont-want-to-know-my-genome-sequence/”>”Why I Dont Want to Know My Genome Sequence”</a>. She includes some commentary from Jim Watson and a few mini-profiles of others who have had genome sequencing for one reason or another.

Sequencing is not cheap yet, and even genotyping is on balance an expensive product when judged in terms of actionable information for most users. So I don’t advocate genetic sampling for people who have better things to do with their money. Yet I disagree with much of Lewis’ rationale. For example:

Learning our genetic story will require deciphering all possible gene interactions. Until then, I might learn about a disease-causing mutation, but not another that counters it, and then have to live with the knowledge. Computers and researchers will need to dissect and compare many thousands of sequenced human genomes to deduce the gene interactions.

This is like arguing that we shouldn’t watch the weather on TV because meteorologists don’t know all the atmospheric factors that cause tornadoes.

Most people right now who have sequencing done will get no news of direct import to their health. Some may learn that they carry a disease-causing mutation, and of these, some will have an as-yet-undiscovered protective mutation that they won’t know about. Many with a risk of serious disease will already have a family history of that illness.

I think the weather is a pretty good analogy for this situation. One might say that we don’t need to watch the weather because we can just as easily look outside and see what the sky is doing. Or that we don’t need TV weather because it is too much trouble to carry umbrellas anyway. Or that we don’t need TV weather because the weather at our house is always a little different from the weather station. Or that predicting next week’s weather will require a lot of expensive interpretation. Or…