Category Archives: Books

Book review: “My Beautiful Genome” by Lone Frank

After the keenly observed industry watching of Kevin Davies book “The $1000 Genome”, I decided to get a more consumerist view of DTC genetic testing and what it means at a more personal level.

The books blurb suggests it is “Sharp and funny”, but at its heart this is a biographical tale of whether it’s genetics or environment that makes you who you are. Steering clear of the medical interventionism tub-thumping, it’s more a tale of whether there is satisfaction to be gained, or insights had into your mental makeup via genetics.

The best thing I can say about this book, is that it is the reason I sent my sample off to 23andMe to be analysed. It no longer seemed sensible for me to hold out against the imperative to learn more about myself. Maybe that’s a valuable enough output.

The writing is conversational, but for me, the book is at it’s best when the sources in it are quoted verbatim. And there are many. I found myself poring over these more avidly than the rest of the text. I can’t say the humour came through for me, it’s a little dark in places, and not being a reader of biographies, maybe I wasn’t prepared for the  confessional content.

Lone Frank is lucky though, as the book goes far beyond what you or I might be able to order for a couple of hundred dollars, or more, in terms of online testing. She manages to wheedle access to far more diagnostic and actionable tests than I suspect we could manage. Not to mention enviable access to genomics pioneers, including Watson himself.

There is coverage of the ‘deep geneaology’ which I imagine is going to drive a lot of people towards personal genomics as an extension of their compulsive rifling through parish records, and a way to get a handle on family trees when the paper trails run cold.

There is much less of a focus on the underlying technology, it is the testing landscape is what is explored here, from making sure Jewish couples have healthy babies, to the genetic snake-oil of love matching via your genes (or HLA subtypes).

The second half of the book is really where the behavioural strand beds in. There’s plenty of talk of discoveries that have graced the tabloid press – “infidelity genes” and the like. To be fair, the science is well explained, and definitely layman accessible, but perhaps there is too much of the popularist and speculative bent in the later chapters. And I think the intersection of psychology and genetics is perhaps not quite advanced enough yet to stand up to much scruitiny. At least, not how it is presented here (it is not my field or forte!).

This segues into a necessary, and even discussion on modern eugenics practice, and a timely reminder that it may still be a dirty word, but it continues unabated – now just in the hands of parents and not governments.

On the whole this is a book I’d give to someone outside of work to kind of explain the field I’m in. I don’t regret spending the money on the book, or the time I invested in reading it (it didn’t take long compared to my last read!), but perhaps aimed at a more general readership unless you’re interested in the biographical ramifications of having your DNA tested, maybe not one for the bookshelf, what was a chapter of “The $1000 Genome” is spread across 300 pages here.

Book review: “The $1000 Genome” by Kevin Davies

So in my quest to do a bit of reading around the industry I now find myself in, I’ve lined up a few books.  I actually started “The $1000 Genome” in the weeks prior to my interview at OGT, and the fact that I only finished it a couple of weeks ago (5 months later) should not be taken as a reflection on the quality of the book.

I think one thing people will be asking is whether a book written in 2010 is still relevant at the tail end of 2011 in such a fast-moving industry, and I think it’s a testament to Kevin Davies writing that it is.

I haven’t read either of Kevin’s previous two books, “Cracking the Genome” (no explanation required as to what that might be about [but note that the UK title of this book is “The Sequence”]) and “Breakthrough” on the race to find the breast cancer gene, I probably will purchase these when the existing book backlog is cleared.

One thing this book has in spades is an excellent history to how we got where we are today, both in terms of the personalities and the companies that have drive the NGS revolution.  Consequently some about familiar names such as 23andMe and the small sequencing startups that were swallowed by the industry biogiants may be familiar, but the book charts them from setup to acquisition and the movement of key staff between them.  For me alone the history of NGS and emergent personal genomics is probably worth the cover price of the book alone.  There is also no skimping on the next ‘next-generation’ contenders.

Also well documented is the rivalry between the main DTC companies, 23andMe, deCODE and Navigenics, and it’s interesting to see how they stratify in terms of panels offered, risk calculation and how focused they are on ‘actionable’ information.  It’s also worth delving into the longer term research-led strategies of these companies, and the regulatory hurdles they are already embroiled in.

It’s actually quite poignant how quickly we’ve moved from sequencing a reference genome, to sequencing an individual person’s genome, to having dozens, and then hundreds of full genomes.  This was brought home in a telecon I had this week with a research institute who figured they had sequenced 160 genomes in 2010/2011.  As with all science what was once a Nature paper becomes quickly routine when NGS hardware is ramping up capacity as much as it is.  This is also strongly highlighted in the book.

The final section deals with the likely arrival of genome-led P4 medicine, the sequencing X-Prize and wraps up just how close we are to the $1000 genome.  The book is actually quite light on price as a driver, and prefers to point out what could be done when it’s cheap enough to do so.  With excursions into the authors own genomic landscape and thorough referencing throughout, it’s a book I can happily recommend to anyone in the field, or with a passing interest in it.