Craig Venter argues that the nature vs. nurture debate is far from settled.
From the first time it was reveled that my DNA constituted the majority portion of the human genome published by my team at Celera Genomics in 2001, I have frequently been asked what it is like to gaze at my own genetic code. Now, with today's publication of my diploid genome in the public access journal PLOS Biology
as the first individual genome, it seems to have only increased people's fascination with what it's like to have your genome in hand. The difference between then and now is that many of the questions today center on what you can learn from reading your genetic code and how soon they can get their genomes sequenced.
At the start of the government funded Human Genome Project when scientists were contemplating whose genome(s) to sequence, secrecy and anonymity were the key words of the time. Fear, driven by genetic deterministic dogma (your genetic code will dictate your life events), dominated the approaches then. The genetic code does largely drive the lives of single cell organisms, but genes plays much less of a role in our bodies since we have over 100 trillion cells, each being nurtured in a unique environment.
The notion that minor changes in the genetic code of single genes will be the primary determinant of what diseases we will get arose out of some of the early genetic discoveries. The classic example is Huntington's Disease in which additional DNA insertions in a single gene are strongly linked to who has the disease. My view is that these early discovered links between genes and disease occurred because they were rare single-gene disorders and were not at all representative of the majority of human traits. Instead, the norm is an impressive array of large sets of genes together with environmental conditions that will determine life outcomes.
Our publication today shows genetic variation between people is substantially higher than we expected and that we do not all have the same sets of genes with minor variations that determine who we are and what diseases we get. While my genetic code shows many disease-linked variations, I am happy and healthy at age 60. And while I'm excited to have my genome in hand, my ultimate goal is to have a database with over 10,000 complete diploid human genomes and associated medical information. Only then will it be possible to assess what is nature, i.e., from your genes, and what is nurture or due to your unique environment. As always, I'm impatient to get to the next level as I have always believed that genomics will revolutionize our lives.