Here Is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics

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In 2007, Misha Angrist became the fourth subject in the Personal Genome Project, George Church’s ambitious plan to sequence the entire genomic catalog: every participant’s twenty thousand–plus genes and the rest of his or her six billion base pairs. Unlocking the secrets of our genomes opens the door to understanding why we are the way we are and potentially fixing what ails us, from cancer and diabetes to obesity and male pattern baldness. But what exactly will happen to this ...

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Here Is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics

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Overview

In 2007, Misha Angrist became the fourth subject in the Personal Genome Project, George Church’s ambitious plan to sequence the entire genomic catalog: every participant’s twenty thousand–plus genes and the rest of his or her six billion base pairs. Unlocking the secrets of our genomes opens the door to understanding why we are the way we are and potentially fixing what ails us, from cancer and diabetes to obesity and male pattern baldness. But what exactly will happen to this information? Will it be a boon or just another marketing tool?

Here Is a Human Being is the first in-depth look at personal genomics—its larger-than-life research subjects; its entrepreneurs and do-it-yourselfers; its technology developers; and the bewildered physicians and regulators who must negotiate with it—and what it means to be a “public genome” in a world where privacy is already under siege.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

When a geneticist friend learned that Angrist, an assistant professor at Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, had volunteered to participate in the first phase of Harvard University's 2009 Genome Project (which makes the genome of its participants public), he asked, "Why in God's name would you want to do that?" Here is a Human Being is Angrist's answer. The Project will ultimately create a publicly-accessible database matching the genotypes of hundreds of thousands of volunteers to their observable physical characteristics (phenotypes), providing an invaluable resource for health providers and researchers in understanding genetic vulnerabilities to a variety of diseases and conditions, and also opening the door to several potential hazards (ineligibility for life insurance; identity theft; the psychological consequences of bad genetic news). But for Angrist and nine other geneticists chosen for the initial phase, the scientific benefits outweighed any personal implications. His family supported his decision and Angrist, a Pushcart Prize winner, offers an account of his experience with clear explanations of the science involved and page-turning suspense about the frontiers of genetic research.
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Kirkus Reviews

A former genetic counselor investigates personal genomics.

Angrist, an assistant professor at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, volunteered to participate in the first phase of Harvard University's Personal Genome Project, which sought to create a publicly available database of hundreds of thousands of individuals. The database would correlate individual genotypes to phenotypes (i.e., observable characteristics), creating an invaluable resource for health providers, researchers and other scientific and medical professionals. Because of bioethical considerations, academics (mostly geneticists) were chosen for the preliminary study. They would be best able to evaluate potential unintended negative consequences for themselves and their families of revealing such information publicly. Angrist discussed the risks with his family before signing a consent form, but he still felt trepidation when the results of his tests became available. He describes how he spent days in "hand-to-hand combat mode, going gene by gene." Though there were no hidden minefields, he found the information to be frustrating. "I would find mutations in genes that coded for proteins," he writes, "but the proteins' ascribed functions would be so general and/or tentative...as to be meaningless. In some cases, the proteins didn't even have names, let alone functions assigned to them." Nevertheless, Angrist remained excited, not by"the prospect of digging into my data every day, but by the collective aggregation of genomes and traits and the years of code-breaking we have ahead of us." He is convinced that that as the database as grows, it will play a part in demystifying the genome and become one of the most important tools for the development of preventative medicine.

Angrist artfully uses his personal experiences to introduce readers to the frontiers of genetic knowledge today and its promise for the future.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061628337
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/2/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 9.52 (w) x 11.78 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Misha Angrist is an assistant professor at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and two daughters.

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