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Not So Fast: Apr 25, 2011

In a Guardian opinion piece published last week, plant geneticist Jonathan Latham spoke of "the failure of the genome." Latham said the human genome hasn't yielded the wealth of information on heritability and disease that was anticipated, and that "the failure to find meaningful inherited genetic predispositions is likely to become the most profound crisis that science has faced." But at Genomes Unzipped, Vincent Plagnol, Luke Jostins, and Daniel MacArthur are taking exception to Latham's fatalistic outlook on the usefulness of the genome. This "rather hysterical" critique is part of a "bizarre and disturbing" genome-bashing trend that must be countered, Plagnol, Jostins, and MacArthur say. For one thing, Latham only addresses the genetics of complex disease, which is only a small part of human genomics studies, the trio writes. "Whatever you feel about the success of complex disease genetics, proclaiming 'the failure of the genome' does an indisputable disservice to the areas where genetics has made a huge difference both to science and to the lives of patients," the three bloggers say. Also, researchers have found and validated several genetic variants that are associated with common disease, which counters Latham's argument that common disease-gene associations don't exist. In addition, the Genomes Unzipped trio adds, Latham's "fundamental error" lies in equating disease risk with researchers' understanding of that disease. "We could understand all the factors that predispose individuals to a disease, and yet learn nothing about it. Likewise, even small risk factors can shed important light on complex diseases," the authors write.

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