Personal Genomics in the News: Desmond Tutu and the GET Conference

GET2010It’s been a busy twenty-four hours in the world of personal genomics. Yesterday, as announced in the journal Nature, the number of individuals who have had their genomes sequenced and made publicly available increased by two. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and !Gubi, a tribal elder from a Bushman (or Khoisan) community in Namibia, joined the ranks of personal genomics pioneers that include scientific and cultural luminaries such as James Watson, George Church, Skip Gates, Jr. and Stephen Quake.

Hot on the heels of the Nature paper (which has been exceptionally well-covered elsewhere, including  by Not Exactly Rocket Science, the Technology Review, and the New York Times) comes this morning’s announcement that many of those same genomics pioneers, including Watson, Church, Gates, Quake and others, will be sharing the stage together at the inaugural GET (Genomes Environments Traits) Conference. From the conference announcement:

“The GET Conference 2010 marks the last opportunity in history to gather a majority of individuals in the world with public personal genome sequences in a single venue,” says George Church, founder and principal investigator of the Personal Genome Project and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. “With rapid advances in technology, the number of individuals with personal genome sequences is expected to rise dramatically, from dozens today to thousands by 2011 and a million or more individuals within the next few years.”

The morning portion of GET Conference 2010 will feature wide-ranging discussions during which personal genome pioneers and globally recognized leaders of genomic science and industry, including Misha Angrist, George Church, Jay Flatley, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Rosalynn Gill, Seong-Jin Kim, Greg Lucier, James Lupski, Stephen Quake, Dan Stoicescu and James Watson, will share their experiences and discuss the future of personal genomics. Award-winning science journalists Carl Zimmer and Robert Krulwich will moderate the discussions.

Even with the additions of Tutu and !Gubi to the whole-genome sequence society, the individuals who will share the stage at the GET Conference are not representative of the full breadth of human diversity, genetic or otherwise. But both the conference and the addition of two new whole genomes from southern African strongly suggest this  is changing. As George Church notes today in WIRED, genomic technologies are poised to “…spread even faster than the rise of computers from obscurity in 1980 to access for everyone today, even in developing nations,” and he is far from alone in believing that, within a few years, not even the largest sports stadiums will be able to hold all those who have had their personal genomes sequenced.

That global vision for personal genomics is part of the mission of, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization developed to support the Personal Genome Project and to serve as both a pioneer and ambassador of emerging technologies and knowledge that will positively impact the health and well-being of humankind worldwide. I’m pleased to be a part of that effort, both as a member of the GET Conference Steering Committee and as a part of a law firm, Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, that is sponsoring the GET Conference and has served as counsel for since its inception.

You can find out more, as well as register for the conference, at the GET Conference website.