The talk will begin at 10:30 am on Wednesday, November 16th, in Howey Physics Building, room N202. Coffee and snacks will be provided starting at 10am. The speaker is Gregory Gibson, the Tom and Marie Patton Chair and Professors of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech.
Integrating genes and the environment into predictive health
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, our ability to dissect the genetic component of complex traits, including disease susceptibility, has improved extraordinarily. Two examples are height, the genetic component of which has just been shown to be attributable to 12,000 polymorphisms contained within about 20% of the human genome; and educational attainment, for which 4,000 polymorphisms explain maybe a fifth of the variance for how long we stay in school. There is something of a rush to implement this knowledge into the development of so-called Polygenic Risk Scores (PRS) that evaluate a person’s likelihood of developing a disease or condition. However, there are three problems that I will discuss, which are extremely relevant to issues of health equity. The first is that the PRS are mostly based on European-ancestry cohorts and do not transfer well across populations. The second is that environment/culture/behavior/lifestyle interact in complex ways with PRS but are much harder to quantify. The third has to do with human fallibility in evaluating relative and absolute risk.