Brain scan: Welcome to my genome

October 7, 2014

George Church is a genetics pioneer whose research spans treating diseases, altering bodies and a desire to breed woolly mammoths

HE IS a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, but George Church is also a vegan, cannot hold a tune, gave up driving due to narcolepsy and suffers headaches after running. Technology Quarterly did not discover these intimate details through surveillance, interrogation or going through his trash, but simply by browsing a website where Dr Church makes such particulars freely available, and much more besides. The Personal Genome Project (PGP), a medical study designed by Dr Church and for which he was the first subject, even allows visitors to download his entire genome and rummage through his DNA.

It is all part of a grand experiment to help researchers explore the interactions between genetics, environment, behaviour and disease, with the ultimate goal of developing customised therapies for individuals. The only way to do this, Dr Church believes, is with complete openness. “It really is hard to do good science on closed data sets,” he says. To compare, say, a study on autoimmunity in a group of people with a study on their general health could well prove impossible because of anonymity. But with open data, Dr Church and his colleagues have managed to conduct 25 different studies on the same group in just one month.

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