Friday, November 12, 2010

Misha Angrist's "Here is a Human Being"

Misha Angrist is Assistant Professor of the Practice at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy and a Visiting Lecturer at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy inside Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. He holds a PhD degree in Genetics from Case Western Reserve University and was formerly a board-eligible genetic counselor. Angrist received his MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. He is a past winner of the Brenda L. Smart Fiction Prize and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In April 2007 he became the fourth subject in Harvard geneticist George Church's Personal Genome Project. In 2009 he was among the first few identifiable persons to have his entire genome sequenced.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics, and reported the following:
I have spent most of my adult life studying and thinking about human heredity at an intellectual level. In this book, I wanted to understand it at a visceral level and a personal one. The Human Genome Project cost close to $3 billion. My personal genome cost $23,000. Your entire DNA sequence will almost certainly cost a small fraction of that. What will you do with that information? How will you perceive it? Who should have access to it? What does it mean?

On page 99 I begin Chapter 6, "And Then There Were Ten," which describes the coalescence of the Personal Genome Project, the initiative started by Harvard geneticist George Church that aims to sequence the genomes of and collect trait information from 100,000 people and to make all of that information freely available online, thereby turning health privacy on its head. On page 99, we meet Esther Dyson, the daughter of two world-renowned scientists, the "doyenne of the digerati" and, like me, one of the first ten participants in the PGP. To call her a self-starter would be an understatement:
A few months earlier she’d sent me her travel schedule: Moscow, Brussels, London, New York, Aspen, Washington—and that was just June. No wonder she had no land telephone line—it would atrophy from disuse. As a consultant to the air taxi business, she was ferried all over the globe on someone else’s nickel, which made her life seem like some kind of Condé Nast Travel/Wired mashup of “Where’s Waldo?” If I wanted to know where she was, she suggested I follow her on Dopplr, whatever that was.
Esther is not a typical PGP participant. Indeed, she's probably not a typical anything. And I think that that's the point: Curious people with an appetite for risk come in all shapes, sizes and colors. If it is successful, personal genomics will afford them an opportunity to learn about themselves, each other, and the latest and greatest model organism: Homo sapiens.
Learn more about Here is a Human Being and Misha Angrist.

Writers Read: Misha Angrist.

--Marshal Zeringue