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The Rise Of The Genome Bloggers

Publication Date: 
December 15, 2010
Source: 
Nature
Author: 
Ewen Callaway

Professor Hank Greely is quoted on his thoughts on the genetic privacy protection of individuals offering their genomes for analysis. The Nature Publishing Group reports:

Hours after Joseph Pickrell put his genome on the internet, an anonymous blogger took the data and concluded that he came from Ashkenazi Jewish stock. Pickrell, a genetics graduate student at the University of Chicago, Illinois, was sceptical about the claim. But after talking to relatives, he discovered that he had a Jewish great-grandfather who had moved to the United States from Poland at the turn of the nineteenth century. "It was a part of my ancestry I was totally unaware of," he says.

The blogger, who writes under the pseudonym Dienekes Pontikos at http://dodecad.blogspot.com, had commandeered Pickrell's DNA as part of the Dodecad Ancestry Project, an ambitious project in which cutting-edge genomic analysis meets Web 2.0. Pontikos analyses genetic data submitted by followers of his blog to reconstruct personal ancestry and human population history — and reports his findings online. He is part of a small but growing group of 'genome bloggers', a mix of professional scientists and hobbyists proving that widely available tools for computational biology could enable recreational bioinformaticians to make new discoveries.

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In response to concerns about the genetic privacy of those offering their genomes for analysis, "I don't think this is too worrisome," says Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University in California. Both projects provide adequate privacy protection, he says, although they both could do a slightly better job at disclosing the risk of a release.