George Church at TEDMED, many thoughts on personal genomics

This is a talk from a Ted Med in October of 2010, but I just watched it and it is relevant for the state of play in this field today.

For people who don’t know Church, he’s one of the leaders of Knome, Inc (one of the personal genomics companies) and also of the Personal Genome Project (PGP). And you can check out his medical and genomic details as part of that project as well. But he has wide connections and influence in this arena, and it’s worth hearing his perspective on personal genomics. He sets it up talking about “synthetic personal genomes” and mentions how he’s a mutant. He moves on to talk about phenomes, and even how green chemistry is coming together with genomics.

He talked about the AnAge database, which was new to me: the animal ageing and longevity database–and how they are exploring the genomes of long lived organisms for information. (I always love a new database…check out my profile for what I think of them….) He highlighted the story of that child whose genome was sequenced that I talked about before, and how it demonstrates that sequencing personal genomes is right in the clinic today. He also speaks about the epigenome toward the end. It’s a lot to cover, and I’m not sure it’s the most accessible talk for novices, and it ends a bit abruptly (I imagine he has enough material to go on for about 7 days straight, but TED limits everyone to 15 minutes). But man–I wrote down 5 different thought + action items out of this that I have to go work on right now…

My favorite part was when he said this–about the environment and health, which he says is a frequently asked question: “If health is mostly environmental, why do we need genetics?” And I love the way he framed the answer–that the point of personal genomics is not so say “here’s your genetic destiny and get used to it” but instead determine “what’s the ideal environment for your genome”. “And it’s not one-size-fits-all.” <–THIS is a point I keep trying to make with people who are trying to deny any influence of genetics on health. Of course environment influences biology–that’s pretty much what biology is about. But your genome constrains the response it can give–and you can’t force the same lifestyle, food, and clean living strategies on everyone because each person may respond differently.


Hat tip to @fbfukushima for the retweet of the original:

Video @TEDMED – Pushing back against skepticism, George Church talks about the bright future of personal genomics.

Cross-posted at Genomes Are Us.