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Dr. Kirk M. Maxey Shares his Expertise with Members of the DNA-NEWBIE Mailing List

The DNA-NEWBIE mailing list is a great resource for people who are new to genetic genealogy or genetic testing in general. The list provides a forum for questions while promoting education and the sharing of ideas. I primarily use the mailing list to follow current trends or concerns in the field of genetic genealogy so that I can share them here on the blog.

The recent deluge of media attention regarding J. Craig Venter’s diploid genome sequencing prompted one list-member to quote Dr. Edward Rubin: “It’s not clear whether it’ll be 10 years or 50 years, but in our lifetime, [individual DNA sequencing ] will happen.” The list-member goes on to say that it will probably not happen in his lifetime since he turns 75 next month.

Interestingly, the list-member’s statement is addressed by Dr. Kirk Maxey, one of the Personal Genome Project’s “First 10.” Dr. Maxey asserts:

“Don’t bet your whole paycheck on it. Ten people, including me, have signed on with Harvard University gene sequencing Professor George Church to have our entire diploid genomes sequenced. More than that – we will be posting them on the internet for all the world to view. And it should all be finished – before Christmas.”

“For all its complexity, a map of any particular human genome is not really that interesting unless you can also say, “And here is who/what you get from such a blueprint…”.”

“All of the promise of genomics research, the personalized medicine and all the other things, will not be possible unless people are willing to simply bare their genes the same way they are already baring their faces. You are who you are.”

Dr. Maxey makes two great points – we have a long way to go before genomic sequencing provides an appreciable amount of useful information, and we will only obtain that information thanks to the courage of people who are willing to “bare their genes.”

Another list-member asks Dr. Maxey if he knows his Y-DNA haplogroup yet. He responds:

“I am I1a, although this data came from CaBRI and not from the Harvard PGP project. Actually, the full sequencing project is concentrating on disease-associated alleles first. They are not interested in tracing ancestry, but more involved with linking your precise medical and health history to your gene complement.” [Note that I added the hyperlinks for more information - TGG]

And finally, a third list-member asks if the PGP is accepting others for its scale-up, and how he might go about applying. Dr. Maxey writes:

“There is a great deal of discussion now ongoing, not so much about whether to expand the project and get more volunteers, but more about how. I think that they are waiting to see a bit more how this impacts the lives of the first 10 so that they can provide good informed consent to the new ones. It is not something to be taken lightly. Every gene that is reported carries some consequence, especially those that are supposed to predispose one to insanity, early death, etc. It is one impact to know about this yourself, and a completely different one to have your employer and your neighbors looking them up too.”

I think it’s great that Dr. Maxey is participating in the DNA mailing list community and sharing his insight and expertise with these DNA-newbies. This type of sharing and conversation is precisely what is needed to promote the goals of personalized medicine while eliminating fear through education.

I hope to see other members of the PGP mingling with members of the genetic genealogy community. In my opinion, genetic genealogists represent a unique community that should be embraced by the personalized genetics movement. Indeed, genetic genealogists are one of the very few groups of private citizens outside the scientific community who are at the forefront of DNA sequencing and interpretation. They will also undoubtedly be some of the first to explore personalized medicine and whole-genome sequencing.

P.S. – I did check with Dr. Maxey before publishing this interaction, and he thought it was a great idea. I’d like to thank Dr. Maxey again for interacting with the genetic genealogy community.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007