Monday, January 29, 2007

Who to sequence?

I am optimistic that the price of sequencing a 4Gb (e.g. human) genome will be falling rapidly over the next decade, so that the idea of commissioning a genome sequence with personal funds will not be out of the question. Alternatively, having a genome run may become a popular giveaway, though it may be that only the rich can afford free (note to anyone trying to give me the same gift: I'll wear a barrel before giving up that prize).

The question then becomes: would it be worth it? If I could get my genome sequenced, would I? Undoubtedly there will be a horde of companies offering to help me interpret the results, probably with the slavish devotion to scientific rigor which characterizes the contemporary nutritional supplement industry. Even if I got good advice, would I follow it? I know I should eat better & exercise more; would a 'bad' genotype really give me that gluteus kick I need? I'm not optimistic about that.

If some interesting biology could result, then that might be enough to convince me. But that doesn't seem likely. The family lore would suggest that I am a gemisch of various Northern European clans, which is certainly a type which has already been sequenced and will certainly get heavily sequenced going forward. Nope, nothing terribly exciting there.

My one form of regular exercise is walking; most work days I walk at least 2km in my commute. When I am not walking to work, I am rarely alone. My most common companion on my walks, now there is a genome worth sequencing.

My best friend is from Asian stock and has a significantly restricted bloodline. Her clan is reputed to have originated in Tibet, but it was in the court of the Chinese emperor that they gained fame, for they were royal greeters in the Forbidden City. With that lofty duty came restricted social opportunities, and so the clan stuck to themselves from a reproductive standpoint.

However, with the 20th century came a rejection of the old ways, and being associated with the emperor was no asset. So they tried to hide -- but how could they? Those many generations of non-intermingling had left a genetic footprint -- distinctive facial features, very fine hair, short stature. Despite the difficulty, some of the clan did escape and emigrate to safer parts of the world to start anew.

Now that is a genome worth sequencing! To have a shot at understanding how genetic variation translates into morphologic variation: that I could see springing some dough on. I can see it now, sitting down together with my laptop and poring over the results, trying to ponder which resulted in that distinctive familial face, which leads to the fine hair that knots without provocation, which prevented cartilage formation in her ears, and which puts that marked curl in her tail which wags so furiously when I get home.

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