TEDxCambridge: George Church on genomics and human diversity

"George Church considers recent advances in genomics and personalized medicine and asks: as we seek to eliminate disorders like schizophrenia and dyslexia, or even rare genetic diseases, how should we think about preserving human diversity?"

Slide at 7:20:

"Rare [does not necessarily equal] Deleterious

MSTN: Lean muscles
LRP5: Extra-strong bones
PCSK9: Greatly reduced risk of heart disease
CCR5: Virus-resistance

Embrace the extremes: informative, easy, powerful"

Conclusion: "So anyway we and others are sequencing these long-lived animals and humans and we hope this will be part of a bigger project to measure and design humans going forward."

Eske Willerslev at the 2012 DOE JGI Genomics of Energy and Environment Meeting

'Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen on "Understanding Historical Human Migration Patterns and Interbreeding Using the Ancient Genomes of a Palaeo-Eskimo and an Aboriginal Australian" at the 7th Annual Genomics of Energy & Environment Meeting on March 21, 2012 in Walnut Creek, Calif.'

"Asians are closer to Europeans than they are to aboriginal Australians, but at the same time aborigine Australians are closer to Asians than they are to Europeans." (23:10)

At the end, Willerslev mentions "we are also doing the genome of Clovis, the oldest skeleton in the Americas". I have no idea which skeleton in particular he's talking about, but any Paleo-Indian genome should be informative.

New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer: Oetzi genome "not important"

Ken Weiss links to this speech by Carl Zimmer.

"As I recall, the big news in the Oetzi genome I think was that he had brown eyes. I mean it just . . . it doesn't . . . that's not important." (31:42)

Obviously, that was not the biggest news to those who were paying attention. But even if it had been, I'd still be taken aback by a comment like this from a science reporter. In fairness, Zimmer's talk overall is reasonable and inoffensive compared to Weiss's blog post, and does not appear to be motivated by the same racial anxieties:

So just to conclude I would say that my experience in writing about genomes has firmly convinced me that we are in the middle of another scientific revolution like the one in the middle of the 17th century and that genomes are a big part of that. But it's important to focus on what makes that revolution so important. So in the 1600s, for example, one of the most important things that happened was the people invented microscopes. [. . .] But again it wasn't so much the microscopes themselves that mattered, but what people were seeing with them.

Some asshole named "Ken Weiss" wants whole genome sequencing to go away

Is whole genome sequencing fading? Will it rebound (or relapse)?

There are various informal indicators that funders are losing enthusiasm for human whole genome sequencing. [. . .] If this turns out to be more than a few anecdotes or personal opinions, and is actually occurring, it's understandable and to be lauded. As we think we can truthfully claim, we have for years been warning of the dangers of the kind of overkill that genomics (and, indeed, other 'omics' fads) present: promise miracles and you had better deliver!

The same thing applies to evolutionary studies that seek whole genome sequences as well as to studies designed to use such data to predict individual diseases. There are too many variants to sort through, the individual signal is too weak, and too many parts of the genome contribute to many if not most traits, for genomes to be all that important--whether for predicting future disease, normal phenotypes like behaviors, or fitness in the face of natural selection.

The proper response to genomic complexity is of course not to throw ones hands up and go back to candidate gene studies, but to sequence lots and lots of genomes in full. This is what needs to happen, and falling sequencing costs mean this is what will happen, regardless of what Ken Weiss wants.

Note: Ken Weiss is "Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology and Genetics at Penn State University". I can think of a few possibilities: (1) Weiss is sincere in believing medical science and evolutionary research would be better advanced with less whole genome sequencing; he's not malicious -- just short-sighted, unimaginative, and breathtakingly ignorant of the broader state of his supposed academic specialty. (2) Weiss is merely jealous that his colleagues are getting bigger grants than him, a frailty he could perhaps be forgiven. (3) "Anthropology and Genetics" professor Weiss, for some reason, prefers that human evolutionary and genetics research not advance.

Looking at some of his other posts, I see plenty of evidence ethnic and/or ideological considerations underpin Weiss's "warnings" about genomics.

Analysis of surname origins identifies genetic admixture events undetectable from genealogical records

In the name of the migrant father—Analysis of surname origins identifies genetic admixture events undetectable from genealogical records

M H D Larmuseau et al.

Patrilineal heritable surnames are widely used to select autochthonous participants for studies on small-scale population genetic patterns owing to the unique link between the surname and a genetic marker, the Y-chromosome (Y-chr). Today, the question arises as to whether the surname origin will be informative on top of in-depth genealogical pedigrees. Admixture events that happened in the period after giving heritable surnames but before the start of genealogical records may be informative about the additional value of the surname origin. In this context, an interesting historical event is the demic migration from French-speaking regions in Northern France to the depopulated and Dutch-speaking region Flanders at the end of the sixteenth century. Y-chr subhaplogroups of individuals with a French/Roman surname that could be associated with this migration event were compared with those of a group with autochthonous Flemish surnames. Although these groups could not be differentiated based on in-depth genealogical data, they were significantly genetically different from each other. Moreover, the observed genetic divergence was related to the differences in the distributions of main Y-subhaplogroups between contemporary populations from Northern France and Flanders. Therefore, these results indicate that the surname origin can be an important feature on top of in-depth genealogical results to select autochthonous participants for a regional population genetic study based on Y-chromosomes.

Keywords: admixture; genetic genealogy; historical gene flow; human population structure; Y-chromosome


Ten Quite Interesting Things About Intelligence Test Scores - Prof. Ian Deary

"Doing research on intelligence is fascinating, and also sometimes frustrating. Like being a meteorologist, when you tell someone you work on intelligence you find that they start telling you about your own topic. So, Prof Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh thinks that it is useful show people some real data that come from intelligence tests; opinions can then be founded on data, or at least one can query the data-gathering or its interpretations.

Without making assumptions about what intelligence tests measure or why people differ in their scores, he presents some results and invites people's reactions to them. He is still surprised by the fact that sitting down with one of these tests for three quarters of an hour or so and getting a score can have such far-reaching predictions, and cause so many arguments."