Getting your genome sequenced isn’t just some sort of futuristic thing that will be helpful in the future, geneticist Manolis Dermitzakis argued in a Reddit AMA question-and-answer session yesterday.
Indeed, the University of Geneva genetics professor said, “I think everyone should have their genome sequenced yesterday!”
Some argue that getting a readout of your own personal genetic blueprint is of questionable value right now. Bioethicist George Annas of Boston University told Tech Insider earlier this year that while there’s nothing wrong with an adult voluntarily choosing to get their DNA sequenced, he doesn’t think there’s much of an argument that it’s medically useful for a generally healthy person.
“Even today, most geneticists would say that instead of paying to have your genome sequenced, you’re better off doing a family history,” Annas said.
But Dermitzakis thinks differently. At least in part, he takes a more holistic view: It’s not just about the value of genetic data to an individual, but to the scientific community at large. All the data from sequenced genomes informs geneticists who are trying to understand exactly how those bits of DNA are responsible for traits and behaviours.
“Not only will [genome sequencing] slowly provide info about oneself but it will massively improve the understanding of all other genomes,” Dermitzakis wrote.
The value of the secrets in our genetic code
Right now it’s true that there are big limits on what we know from seeing our DNA. We’re able to identify genes responsible for certain diseases, and we know that some genes are connected to a greater likelihood of other illnesses.
But that’s not all genetic information is good for. In some countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, scientists use genetic tests to identify people with traits that could be beneficial while training for certain sports. A company called Helix is betting that there’s so much information in our genetic code that could be useful to us as individuals that they’re creating an app store to let people access new services that will provide them information based on their personal genetic data. As new information becomes available, they will be able to give customers more and more data.
Perhaps most importantly to researchers like Dermitzakis, the more people that have their genomes sequenced, the more genomes researchers like him can analyse, which is the only way to really unlock the secrets of how genes interact with environment to code for traits like intelligence.
Dr. Eric Schadt, the founding director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai, recently told Tech Insider that we may end up needing “many millions” of genomes before we really understand many of the intricacies of how DNA helps define who we are.
Some people are scared that sequencing everyone’s genetic code could be a serious privacy risk, since the places that store that information aren’t always secure, and our genes contain some of the most intimate details about who we are — which some may want to keep private.
Dermitzakis has an interesting solution for that. He argues that “we should post our genomes on the internet :-).” (Smiley face and all.).
He knows that it’s an extreme proposal, but he thinks that if everyone’s information was publicly available, we’d worry less about our own individual personal details.
Here’s how he explains it: “If we were all naked, nobody would feel embarrassed about being naked.”
And perhaps if all of our genetic information was available for researchers to use, they’d be able to use that information for good.
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