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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Can I play, too?

Why am I in Shenzhen right now? Because I read an article a few months ago suggesting that BGI was going to attempt an IQ GWAS (genome wide association study). I've been thinking about this topic since I was a kid, waiting impatiently for the required technology to develop. (The usual situation in my main field of research, theoretical physics...) After reading the article I did a few calculations and realized that we are on the cusp of being able to find much of the genetic variance related to intelligence. I had to get involved!

The situation reminds me of the story of Caltech grad Eugene Myers and the Human Genome Project. Myers was one of the proposers of the whole genome shotgun sequencing technique. When he read in the Wall Street Journal that Celera might attempt the shotgun technique, he called them up to ask Can I play, too? I'm told there were a lot of techers on the Celera informatics team :-)

Even if our planned study fails, it's clear on the basis of trends in cost and capacity of sequencing that massive GWAS involving 10^5 or 10^6 individuals are right around the corner. It is of primary importance that phenotype data (including IQ!) on this first group of sequenced individuals be collected in a systematic fashion. Assuming this is the case, then under reasonable assumptions a significant fraction of the .6 or so of additive genetic variance will have been discovered within the next 5 (perhaps 10) years.


PS If you are interested in the original Human Genome Project, I highly recommend the book linked to above: The Genome War by James Shreeve.

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