Adam Keiper at National Review's The Corner stumbles upon human-genome-sequencer J. Craig Venter "pooh-pooh[ing] the scientific achievement that helped catapult him to international celebrity." In a rather lively interview with Der Spiegel, the biologist-businessman takes a few swings at his former rivals and estimates the "medical benefits" of the Human Genome Project at "close to zero to put it precisely."
Just as concerns regarding the sequencing were ill-founded, Venter argues, so were the hopes. "I can tell you from my own experience. I put my own genome on the Internet. People had the notion this was the scariest thing out there. But what happened? Nothing." Why was that? Because, he explains, we're just no good at reading the genome yet. "We couldn't even be certain what my eye color was. Isn't that sad?" He asks. Der Spiegel pushes back at Venter, with interesting results:
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, Jim Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, has said he doesn't want to know which variant of the so-called ApoE gene he has -- it could say something about his risk for developing Alzheimer's, and he's afraid of that …Venter: That was silliness. At that age? Watson is over 80.
SPIEGEL: Are you interested in finding out what ApoE variant you have?
Venter: I know it. And according to it, I have a slightly increased risk for Alzheimer's disease. But it impresses me little because I could have dozens of other genes that counteract it. Because we do not know that, this information is meaningless.
The increased risk, too, explains Venter, is hard to parse. "How does a 1 or 3 percent increased risk for something translate into the clinic? It is useless information." In order to get something helpful, "we need a lot more information: Information about your body's chemistry, your physiology, your complete medical history, your brain and your entire life."