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Thursday, April 12, 2012

The DNA of Identical Twins, A Novel

Bill Clinton said that the Genome Project was going to be one of the major scientific discoveries of the 20th  century. Was the Genome Project a discovery? It was a project in which we laid out a simple plan. Sequence the DNA of five people.

Any one of us can sequence our DNA today. The details on how to do it are no more or less a mystery to us than it was to Clinton or any of the bigwigs on the project. Let someone else worry about it, and we'll take to the podium when the work is done.

I've taken up my own genome project. I have an identical twin brother so there will be two people sequenced and there will be two sequences for sale. That's right, for sale. This is a biotech business. The product I'm selling is not just a DNA sequence, but a genome of two clones that will be sequenced over and over as we progress through life and die. The genome project pieced together their sequence from five strangers from different parts of the world. I will be offering two separate genome sequences from identical twins who are very different people.

Unlike the genome project I am starting my project with a check list. What are our similarities and  differences, nature versus nurture? The sequences will be overlayed to find the differences and the similarities. I will look for correlations but make no claims to consequences (causation). Perhaps my smoking habit led to some damage. Then I throw in a twist. After all of the comparisons have been made I shell out another five grand and get another sequence done. What are the differences between me and myself? Could there be some human misunderstanding of how we humans go about DNA sequencing of a genome? We're still new at this.

I've seen the way in which humans interpret simple DNA sequences. A single read runs about 1000 nucleotides. In the beginning stretch there is usually some noise that must be thrown out. I've found explaining this to scientists is not easy because they don't want to hear about it. In explaining the little anomalies that come up when allowing Vector NTI to spit out your sequence from a FASTA file I have encountered opposition. I've engaged in adversarial conversations about who's fault it is that we have these little problems. In my own project I will address these issues.

Since 3 billion nucleotides 3X is a lot of letters to put down on paper, the sequences will be available online. The details of interest will be broken into chapters of a book where I lay out my naive view of DNA. Perhaps that will be of interest to the world outside of science. We have questions for the genetics community. How do they know, for example, that every cell in the human body has the same sequence. Surely they do not. A B-cell coding for different antibodies have shifted their DNA around. I should probably make a side project out of sequencing B-cells.

This is getting expensive!

It is also getting exciting, at least for me. According to the genome project logic, my brother and I should die on the same day from the same disease. But DNA as a predictor of health and happiness is a myth for now. We need to learn more before we can start making wild claims about future humans living to 150 years old. For now we need two clones, twins. But I promise to have this project done in the next five years. When I am done I will publish in book form, "The DNA of Identical Twins". Publish or perish is not a problem on this project. Along with cheap DNA sequencing, we now have the ability to publish books on our own. It will simply be a few DNA genome projects, of twins and a couple sequences of me alone, different times different cells. Online perusing of the sequences will be for sale. The book will be for sale and I will put forward my own naive ideas on what our DNA is there for. I couldn't do much worse than the leaders of the genome project. I am a free citizen. I have nothing to lose here but a little money. I don't predict any huge impact on the future of human health. I simply want to open up a window and see what is on the other side. Unlike the genome project folks, the philosophy here comes from Sgt. Joe Friday from Dragnet, "Just the facts ma'am."

Do it, publish the results, make a side project out of my own thoughts on the subject, and walk away.


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