The first in-depth look at personal genomics: its larger-than-life research subjects; its entrepreneurs and do-it-yourselfers; its technology developers; the bewildered and overwhelmed physicians and regulators who must negotiate it; and what it means to be a "public genome" in a world where privacy is already under siege
In 2007, Misha Angrist became the fourth subject in the Personal Genome Project, George Church's ambitious plan to sequence the entire genomic catalog: every participant's twenty thousandplus genes and the rest of his or her 6 billion base pairs. Church hopes to better understand how genes influence our physical traits, from height and athletic ability to behavior and weight, and our medical conditions, from cancer and diabetes to obesity and male pattern baldness. Now Angrist reveals startling information about the experiment's participants and scientists; how the experiment was, is, and will be conducted; the discoveries and potential discoveries; and the profound implications of having an unfiltered view of our hardwired selves for us and for our children.
DNA technology has already changed our health care, the food we eat, and our criminal justice system. Unlocking the secrets of our genomes opens the door not only to helping us understand why we are the way we are and potentially fixing what ails us but also to many other concerns: What exactly will happen to this information? Will it become just another marketing tool? Can it help us understand our ancestry, or will it merely reinforce old ideas of race? Can personal genomics help fix the U.S. health care system?
Here Is a Human Being explores these complicated questions while documenting Angrist's own fascinating journeyone that tens of thousands of us will soon make.
When a geneticist friend learned that Angrist, an assistant professor at Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, had volunteered to participate in the first phase of Harvard University's 2009 Genome Project (which makes the genome of its participants public), he asked, "Why in God's name would you want to do that?" Here is a Human Being is Angrist's answer. The Project will ultimately create a publicly-accessible database matching the genotypes of hundreds of thousands of volunteers to their observable physical characteristics (phenotypes), providing an invaluable resource for health providers and researchers in understanding genetic vulnerabilities to a variety of diseases and conditions, and also opening the door to several potential hazards (ineligibility for life insurance; identity theft; the psychological consequences of bad genetic news). But for Angrist and nine other geneticists chosen for the initial phase, the scientific benefits outweighed any personal implications. His family supported his decision and Angrist, a Pushcart Prize winner, offers an account of his experience with clear explanations of the science involved and page-turning suspense about the frontiers of genetic research.
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