Monday, May 02, 2011

Crossing the Pacific

Sorry for the lack of posts. I just returned from the US and I'm recovering from jetlag in Taipei.

On my last day at Caltech, just for fun, I gave a lunch talk on my genomics work with BGI. I'll give a similar talk next week at the Taiwan National Center for Theoretical Science to an audience of mathematicians and physicists.

During the talk last week I joked that if we discover some genes affecting cognition, it might be more significant than all my work in theoretical physics. I also mentioned that, because sequencing costs are going down exponentially, I occasionally get the feeling that our work is unnecessary: the explosion of genomic data will produce much more powerful results almost by accident in the next decade or two. So why should we kill ourselves today? People in the audience immediately pointed out that this is always the case in science -- you do what you can with current technology, even though your efforts will seem puny when viewed in retrospect by future experimenters with vastly superior capabilities. However, most areas of science aren't moving quite as fast as genomics, so the feeling is especially strong from my vantage point.


arandomstring said...

Seems to be a problem with the PDF (using most up to date reader).

steve hsu said...

It was prepared using latex on OS X so there might be issues. I notice occasional non-portability but it's rare. You might try google docs.

ben_g said...

Steve, thanks for posting that PDF. A few questions:
-Is heritability/validity/reliability the same in china as in US? Even in rural areas?
-How are you controlling for population stratification at BGI?
-What are the advantages/disadvantages of doing this in a monoethnic sample?

steve hsu said...

Data on h/v/r are sparse for China, although there is probably some literature in Mandarin I do not have access to.

We are going to do the usual things to control pop strat (correct for largest PCA vectors). Things are a bit easier in a Han sample than in a multi-ethnic sample.

ben_g said...

I would guess that heritability and validity are lower in China in the US.. It seems like a lower in h2 in china might cause problems for the study

ben_g said...

A few pages didn't (completely) show when I downloaded it.. Google Docs lets you see everything though

steve hsu said...

No problem for our design unless you can think of an environmental mechanism that boosts genetically ordinary kids up to > +3 SD. Decreased h2 in China would be due to kids growing up in crappy environments, so it doesn't really affect our high group.

For a big brute force GWAS there is a problem because the measured g is more loosely related to the genetic component.

anotherrandom said...

Do you ever worry about the ethics of it? I find it hard to imagine consequences that will be good for society of this type of work. If someone asked you what the top 5 pros and cons of working on this stuff is what would your answers be?
Obviously you can hide behind scientific impartiality, but IMHO that only streches so far. There are some things we shouldn't do even if we can. Maybe someone has already mapped out the ethical minefield, but if they have I'm unaware of it.

steve hsu said...

I laid out the up side in the talk. Humans should take control of their own evolution eventually, and this is a crucial step.

Cognitive genomics can hardly be compared to nuclear weapons technology which easily could have (and possibly still will) lead to the extinction of the human race. Yet many (most) physicists were OK doing that kind of work.

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