Misgivings about Personal Genomics

At Scifoo, I sat in on the session about a handheld genetic sequencing device (hypothetical, but not improbable). The session was hosted by Dr. Fire and was attended by some of the most important voices in genetic research and sequencing. I’m still ruminating on some of the ideas expressed, but my general sense is that once we get sequencing down to the range of 50 cents a pop, we’re entering into an age where one’s genetic data becomes instantly accessible. Coupling a handheld genetic sequencing device with a wireless connection to the internet and a service capable of correlating a given sequence with aggregate data from other users… well, that’s starting to look probable. Most of us look at this and see the potential that clinicians will have instant access to a medical history (and propensity) far more accurate than we have today.

I tend to view such a device as a mixed bag. While a handheld genetic sequencing device could be used by a clinician, it is also very likely it will find its way into the hands of a tyrant, government, or agency focused on using genetic information to purify and “mitigate” health costs. We’re entering into an age where everyone is going to know what diseases they are prone to and what they should be watching out for. Fast forward a few hundred years, and I worry that we’ll live in a world that uses this information to impose a sort of selection, a bias. I worry about a world in which this data is out of our hands and as influential on our lives as our credit score. Call me a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist, but I’m a pessimist when it comes to personal genomics.


In other news too.blogspot.com will likely be the most subscribed blog in the history of blogging as Sergey Brin starts to discuss his life outside of work.