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Personal Genome Sequencing? Meh …

At The Awl, Russell Brandom talks about everything he didn't learn from having his genome sequenced. After taking 23andMe's personal genome test, Brandom learned that his risk for becoming addicted to heroine is 2.9 times higher than average, and that he's a carrier for hemachromatosis. But, he says, despite the occasionally useful result, it's hard to figure out what the significance of these tests really is. "After a decade of research, our data is a jumble of conflicting facts, and no one seems ready to make sense of it," he says. Brandom quotes Duke geneticist Misha Angrist, who wrote the book Here Is A Human Being after having his genome sequenced. "It turns out to be just a total fucking mess. So instead of having this linear icon representing human biology, the most potent symbol now is the hairball," Angrist said. So, Brandom adds, when sites like 23andMe try to make sense of this tangled data, "They don't have any straightforward truths to offer users, just a flood of vague and often frightening ambiguities."

At his Genomeboy blog, Angrist responds, saying that the "under-delivery of personal genomics" is a "familiar meme," but not always a fair one. Angrist says that while he can empathize with the people who think there has been too much hype surrounding personal genomics, the field shouldn't be judged solely on what it can't deliver, but rather what it does well, like give information about carrier status for heritable diseases. "It's a mess and a hairball and a bushel and a peck. And so not destiny," Angrist says. "But that doesn't mean that some of it isn't useful and fascinating. Of course it's fascinating: it's about us."

The Scan

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