Magazine article Science News

A Genetic Exhibitionist

Magazine article Science News

A Genetic Exhibitionist

Article excerpt

Harvard geneticist Joseph Pickrell is part of a new generation of scientists talking about their data not just over the lab bench, but in conversations online. Pickrell uses the Internet to open himself, his research and his thoughts about others' work to public scrutiny.

Pickrell (below) analyzes genetic data from people living today to reconstruct ancient evolutionary relationships. But he wouldn't expect his research subjects to make their genetic secrets public if he wasn't willing to do so himself. "I feel pretty strongly that genetic data isn't scary," he says.

To prove it, Pickrell and other scientists have posted their personal genetic data on Genomes Unzipped, a blog commenting on the personal genomics industry. Most of the information comes from companies, such as 23andMe and Lumigenix, that analyze people's DNA for a fee.

Pickrell learned from his data that he carries a genetic variant that doubles his risk of Alzheimer's disease. "It's not great news," he says, but "it's better to know than to not know."

Another blogger uncovered Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry in Pickrell's genetic background. It turns out that one of Pickrell's great-grandparents was a Jew who immigrated to the United States from Poland in the early 1900s. Pickrell learned that the family had swept that under the rug for fear of discrimination.

It's not just his DNA that Pickrell shares with the world. He has posted drafts of some of his research papers on preprint servers such as arXiv. …

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