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George Church in Newsweek: Why Get Your Genome Sequenced?

In a “web exclusive” for Newsweek (meaning, no room for this in our shrinking paper magazine), George M. Church, Harvard professor of genetics, a co-founder of DTC genomics firm Knome, and an adviser to several other DNA diagnostic companies, writes: The message is not ‘Here’s your destiny. Get used to it!’ Instead, it’s ‘Here’s your destiny, and you can do something about it!’ Diseases result from a combination of genetic vulnerability and lifestyle. If you know you have high risk of certain diseases, it’s in your interest to know and practice the lifestyle that reduces your risk—and the younger, the better.”

Church argues that the health benefits — even at this early stage — are clear: “Over 1,500 disease-related genes have been discovered, knowledge that has improved medical diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Among the genes routinely sequenced in adults are the BRCA1-2 and neu/HER2 genes for breast cancer, multiple genes for colorectal cancer, the LQT1-12 genes for cardiac arrhythmias, and genes that cause a person to form blood clots more easily (like the factor V Leiden and prothrombin genes).”

Church, whom I’ve had the good luck to interview, is a scientist with a great ability to communicate and a love of language. (On his office bookshelf, next to hulking volumes on the microbe E. coli, sits the equally hulking Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary.) In his concluding paragraph, he writes: “Knowing our DNA could make us think of ourselves more mechanically, and yet increase our humanity by embracing our diversity. It could render us less mysterious, yet more awe-inspiring. Our genomes are a vast future resource. How we handle them will define us as a species—not as a fuzzy average, but with our individualism evident in detail.”

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