The U.K. Biobank in Great Britain is going to track the health of hundreds of thousands of participants for years and then determine their genetic differences to look for genetic variations that contribute to disease.
For 10 years, they will be followed through their national health care records, which will be copied into the Biobank. The data will be anonymous, but not completely, to allow for updates by doctors or new questionnaires. By 2014, 40,175 are expected to fall ill with diabetes, heart disease, stroke or cancer. Another 6,200 are expected to have Parkinson's, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis or hip fractures. The DNA of these people will be read and compared, and any normal gene variants, the one-nucleotide differences in DNA that make one person's biology different from another's, will be tagged for study.
The cost of DNA sequencing is going to continue to fall and will fall by many orders of magnitude. It makes sense to start collecting samples and medical histories now and start tracking people for many years. Then when the cost of sequencing falls far enough it will be possible to cheaply determine the entire sequence of every person in the study and compare the data to the health histories of the participants.
However, the study is not ambitious enough. Genetics affects behavioral and personality characteristics and of course an assortment of physical performance characteristics. A really ambitious study would not just collect a representative cross-section of the population. It would also collect samples from people who have either excelled or stood out for being unique in a variety of ways. To look for genetic factors that contribute to various forms of excellence such people as Nobel Prize winners in every category, champion chess players, Olympic medal winners in every category of sport, and any others who have excelled in some measure of extreme accomplishment should be included. At the same time, people who have been maladaptive and dangerous to self or others in extreme ways (eg serial killers, self-mutilators, gambling addicts, drug addicts, and those who suffer from obsessive compuslive disorders) should be sought out for participation.
Another useful way to make the study more ambitious would be to collect more types of measureable information about each participant. For instance, personality tests, psychometric tests, and other tests of mental qualities could be done on volunteers. Also, a wide array of physical tests of coordination, endurance, and of bodily and mental responses to stresses (eg heat, cold, loud noise, being spun around) could be measured. Opinion tests on politics and even on personal preferences in food, colors, music, and other subjects could be done. In a similar vein, a detailed questionaire about hobbies and habits would yield useful information when compared against genetic sequences.
For far too long countless social science studies have been done where genetic factors were not controlled for as variables. What is needed is a massive set of test data collected on a large group of people where genetics can be controlled for along with as many other measurable qualities of people that can be imagined. This could revolutionize the social sciences. A study involviing hundreds of thousands of people that has genetic contribution to physical diseases as its main focus, as laudable as that may be, is lacking in ambition.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2003 January 06 01:19 AM Human Population Genetics|