Ten top doctors, researchers, and scientists have placed their entire DNA code, revealing every little secret all the way from what makes them so quirky and unique to what genetic tendencies toward what diseases they carry, in a database available to one and all on the internet. Launching on Monday, the ten genomes are the first phase of the Personal Genome Project (PGP) and they’re looking for about 100,000 volunteers to fully populate this cyber-space glass house.
Based at Harvard University, the project expects to unravel the genetic beginnings of hundreds of diseases and medical conditions. Even some quirks of personality are thought to be genetic and the project’s researchers hope to learn more about all these aspects of the human body by studying and comparing genetic sequencing details across a wide body of reference. It is believed more thorough knowledge of the human genome will lead to the development of improved drugs and treatment methods for a vast array of medical conditions.
PGP founder, George Church, says it’s time to stop treating the individual as if one size fits all. Some people are genetically programmed to suffer more health consequences when working in risky environments such as an asbestos factory, or eating known food allergens such as peanuts, or trying a new drug. Church, a Harvard geneticist, suggests suggests the more that’s known about one’s personal genome, the wiser the lifestyle choices he or she will make, including which drugs and medical treatments to shun and which jobs are more likely to bring professional success. Church is among the first ten to publish his genome online.
Deciphering a double helix isn’t a common skill so many potential volunteers may think their genetic secrets are safe, lost in the esoteric science of the project. To be a participant in the project, however, intimate and easily understood details, such as name, medical history, ancestry and family history, and even personal preferences are included along with genetic code.
While the members of the research team embrace the project, some critics are concerned about the lack of privacy required of the project. Experts in both medical ethics and privacy fear that once out there, the data cannot be withdrawn, leaving the most intimate details of one’s life open to new, never-imagined uses, perhaps not all of them desirable.