Even the smallest changes in DNA, placing an A where there should be a G, for instance, can drastically impact a person's health—and dictate what treatment will work. Fine-grained genomic approaches like these are improving medicine, but personal genomics is just that: personal. And our society has a tendency to group things and people together in ways that muddy the water rather than clarify it.
"The truth is, of course, there are certain [diseases] that tend to cluster in certain populations of common ancestry," said Dr. Green, "and many times these are represented by racial groups."
Yet race is a social construct, not a biological one. Applying a social construct to a biological construct is like measuring something's weight with a yardstick: both are measurements, but you'll never get the kind of true measurement you need. To get the most of genomic medicine, we as scientists and as a society need to make sure we're using a scale, not a yard stick.
"The way we could do this better," says Dr. Green, "is to track much more accurately to specific genomic features, as opposed to racial characteristics."
Such specificity requires progress in three areas: cheaper sequencing, sequencing in communities from all around the world and (most importantly) health and medical care benefits to everyone.
"I absolutely envision a time where people will get their complete genome sequenced end to end as part of their medical care," said Dr. Green.
For that information to benefit everyone, we have to continue doubling down on programs like the Human Hereditary and Health in Africa program that empower scientists to blow open the doors on cheaper sequencing all around the world by engaging their own communities.
Said Dr. Green, "It's been a success by every metric."