January 26, 2011 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

I’ve just written the final section of the tenth edition of my human genetics textbook. The end is about Stephen Quake, the Stanford bioengineer whose genomic highlights were laid bare in the May 1, 2010 issue of The Lancet (“Clinical assessment incorporating a personal genome";http://www.thelancet.com). 

When I wrote the first edition 20 years ago, sequencing a single gene took years. I couldn’t imagine a day when genomes could be sequenced in days and when anyone could order dozens of DNA tests just by tapping on a keyboard, learning results without the filter of a medical professional. 

Dr. Quake, a pretty healthy sort, had his genome sequenced because a cousin died at age 19 from heart disease (and he’s co-inventor of the sequencer). His results confirmed what he knew from a good old-fashioned pedigree, but also told him that a statin would work well and without side effects, yet the clot-preventer Plavix not so good. The rest? Maybe it’ll help him some day.

Pretty soon, knowing one’s parade of A, T, C, and G will be as commonplace as having a cell phone. And that scares me. With so much of the human genome still uncharted territory, and genes’ interactions with each other and the environment still so tangled, knowing the sequence is the epitome of “too much information.” I don’t want to know mine. And with population biobanks and forensic DNA databases ever-expanding, I hope that personal genome sequencing, while accessible to all who want it, never becomes compulsory.

How about parsing personal genome sequencing to what’s useful now? I think the rush to the $1,000 genome and certainly the $100 genome (DOD) is overkill, like reading all of Wikipedia to learn about wildebeests. At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, let’s not forget the value of a good old family history and traditional tests of one’s phenotype – not just a string of DNA bases.

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