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Google your Genes
Alex Steffen, 2 May 04

Roland over at Smart Mobs posts about how close we are to being able to "google our genome", searching our genes for signs that we may be susceptible to illness (noting that the NIH is closing in on the "$1,000 genome"), and provides a link to this Wikipedia overview of genomics. From the Guardian article:

"The ready availability of results for every genetic test, present and future, is a mixed blessing. Currently, you only carry out a particular test when you want the results - presumably when you have thought through the implications. Once personal genomes are available, all the facts about your susceptibility to medical conditions are there waiting for you on the CD-Rom, whether you want them or not. It is already hard enough for people at risk to decide whether to take a test for illnesses, such as Huntington's, that are currently incurable, since nothing can be done in the event of a positive result. Personal genomes will deepen the quandary."

But there's a larger set of implications here. The falling costs of sequencing genomes don't apply only to human genomes. The day is fast approaching when we will be "running the genes" of millions of organisms, discovering new species, cataloging DNA in frozen "zooz," even sequencing whole microscopic ecosystems in our soils and waters.

This level of insight should both hearten and terrify us. Terrify us because DNA is the planet's source code, and we're leaping into a future where manipulating that code will be much easier and more common than it may be possible to imagine today -- and that is bound to produce threats, tragedies and disasters.

But it should hearten us as well, 'cause it'll also mean that we have access to the vast number of ways in which nature solves gracefully problems we're solving with clumsy chemistry and the brute application of energy. A world with cheap access to the genetic structures of life is a world where biomimicry takes on new meanings and new power... and where the kind of quantum leaps needed to bring us to a state of true sustainability are possible.

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