Nobel laureate James D. Watson peered deep into his genome yesterday. Scientists in Houston presented Watson with a DVD of his genome sequence, which they said was the “first individual genome to be sequenced for less than $1 million”. The carefully worded claim may be an acknowledgement that another personal genome project has already been completed: J. Craig Venter has deposited his genome sequence into the public GenBank database, he told Nature two weeks ago.
And genetic self-knowledge does not necessarily help a person: the only deliberate omission from Watson’s sequence is that of a gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease, which Watson, who is now 79, asked not to know about because it is incurable and claimed one of his grandmothers. Scientists said yesterday that Watson’s genes showed some predisposition to cancer. Watson — who, working with Francis Crick, deduced DNA’s structure in 1953 — has had skin cancer, and a sister had breast cancer, he said yesterday. But it’s unlikely that reading Watson’s genome would have allowed doctors to predict what type of cancer he might have suffered before it was diagnosed.