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Planet Earth

Jim Watson's "Asian" Genes: You Read It Here First

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerAugust 20, 2008 12:01 AM


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Just a quick follow up to my post a couple weeks ago about a talk by genome pioneer Craig Venter. Venter mentioned a new study comparing the two complete individual human genomes--Venter's own, and that of James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. I wrote:

Humans, Venter and other researchers are finding, are more genetically variable than the earlier estimates. Our DNA does not just vary letter by letter, but by entire genes–some of us are missing some genes entirely, and others have extra copies. Venter discovered that he has two copies of a gene variant that speeds up the metabolism of some toxins. Watson’s variants don’t. It turns out that Watson’s variants are very rare in people of European descent, but very common in China. He’s becoming a veritable melting pot.

Well, the study is now out, in the journal Clinical Therapeutics and Pharmacology. The authors use the results of the comparison to argue against race-based medicine, and for personal genomics:

 The cost of sequencing and genotyping is aggressively decreasing, enabling pervasive personalized genomic screening for drug reactions. Drug-metabolizing genes have been characterized sufficiently to enable practitioners to go beyond simplistic ethnic characterization and into the precisely targeted world of personal genomics. We examine six drug-metabolizing genes in J. Craig Venter and James Watson, two Caucasian men whose genomes were recently sequenced. Their genetic differences underscore the importance of personalized genomics over a race-based approach to medicine. To attain truly personalized medicine, the scientific community must aim to elucidate the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to drug reactions and not be satisfied with a simple race-based approach.

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