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Don't Worry, Insurance Industry

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Ezra Klein posited that a $1,000 genome would mean the destruction of the health insurance industry. As people are able to see what their genome contains, they may buy different levels of health insurance based on their disease risk, Klein said.

But at the Gene Expression blog, Razib Khan says that while this notion makes logical sense, it also "oversells the science of prediction in biology, and underestimates the role of randomness in disease outcomes." Even lines of model organisms raised in controlled environments exhibit random phenotypic variation, he says. People with "clean results" would probably still purchase some kind of insurance to protect themselves against unforeseen eventualities. "People who don't smoke do get lung cancer, and people without a family history of heart disease and cancer do get heart disease and cancer," Khan says. "Many of the same people who espouse the power of genomics in predicting disease outcomes might be far more wary of such 'genetic determinism' when it comes to other sorts of life outcomes."