HANOVER, NH Two recent studies by Dartmouth researchers use individual genetic data to reveal the powers and limits of our current understanding of how the genome influences human health and what genes can reveal about the ancestry of the people of New Hampshire.
Published in the Sept. 11 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, Dartmouth Professor Jason Moore and Vanderbilt Professor Scott Williams analyzed how personal genetic testing companies are using still-nascent genome data to judge the health of their customers. Their paper is titled "Epistasis and its Implications for Personal Genetics."
People can now buy inexpensive kits, submit a DNA sample (often a swab from the inside of a cheek or a little bit of saliva), and receive data about their susceptibility to a number of gene-influenced ailments, such as prostate cancer, Alzheimer's, or type II diabetes. Moore and Williams argue that our knowledge of the human genome and its relationship to human health, while growing by leaps and bounds, is still in its infancy.
"The relationship between health and genetics is very complex," says Moore, professor of genetics and of community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School (DMS). "It's often a combination of multiple genes and multiple environmental factors that work together to increase or decrease your risk of disease. I don't think the knowledge base is sufficient to put genetics in the hands of the public quite yet." Moore is also the Frank Lane Research Scholar in Computational Genetics and Director of Bioinformatics at DMS
The authors admit that genetic research is progressing, and they cite the example of the discovery of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and their role in breast cancer. However, the authors caution that, while there is no question these genes are involved in breast cancer, the underlying mechanisms behind the genetic risk are still being worked out.
"There is a perception
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