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'An Absurd Medical Test'

Whole-genome testing is likely to do more harm than good, write the University of Washington's Wylie Burke and Dartmouth Medical School's Gilbert Welch in an op-ed appearing in the Los Angeles Times.

One of the issues, they write, is a matter of too much noise combined with weak signals within the data collected. While some strong genetic signals of disease have been uncovered, Burke and Welch note that most of these were known to be genetic based on family history information. What's left to be uncovered, they say, are genes that increase disease risk by small percentages, and that doesn't provide much information to doctors or patients.

Further, they argue that doctors will be pressured to do something and that'll drive up the number of tests performed and interventions tried. Some interventions, they say, may work, while others may do harm.

"For the medical-industrial complex, it is potentially a huge revenue stream. For most people, however, whole-genome sequencing is an absurd medical test," Burke and Welch say. "If you get entertainment value from a fortune-teller reading — or from a whole genome — that's one thing. But if you value your health, divert your resources to something more meaningful — maybe whole foods."

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