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TR: What’s next for the Personal Genome Project?

GC: We’re in the process of revamping the whole process so we can handle a larger number of people. We hope to move aggressively in the next few months and start recruiting 100,000 people for the next phase of the project. Educational materials will be on our website soon. There will be a phenotypic-trait questionnaire to look over to help people decide if they want to participate, as well as an entrance exam.

TR: Is the entrance exam hard?

GC: It tests basic knowledge of genetics and tries to make sure that people know what they’re signing up for. For example, it tests understanding of the possibility of reidentification in any human genetics research; the [Personal Genome Project] informed-consent components, such as risks, benefits, and protocols; and likely subject and family reactions to alarming news like cancer risk, including possible false positives.

TR: The other companies offering personal-genomics services don’t require a screening process. It that concerning?

GC: I’m requesting that companies do that. I think before you get that information for yourself, you need to visualize the possible outcomes.

TR: You also announced this week your plans to throw your hat into the ring for the Archon X Prize for Genomics, a competition to sequence 100 genomes in 10 days for less than $10,000 each. Why?

GC:I hope this will raise consciousness about personal genomics. It’s one of the many different ways we’re trying to see what engages the public.

I also hope it will help fund the Personal Genome Project. The goals for both are completely aligned. We have to build the infrastructure to sequence 100 genomes in 10 days–once it’s built, we can use that infrastructure to sequence other genomes.

TR: When do you expect to be ready?

GC: I’m hoping to be in a position to do a practice run by the end of 2008.

TR: Who will you sequence?

GC: For the practice run, we’ll use donors from the Personal Genome Project–it would be a waste not to. For the official competition, the X Prize Foundation provides anonymous samples. In truth, I’m a little disappointed that the X Prize isn’t using nonanonymous donors. That means we won’t have any phenotypic data–no information on traits or environment. We’re spending increasing amounts of money on projects where we’re missing these critical components.

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Credit: Photo by Graham Ramsay

Tagged: Biomedicine, DNA, genome

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