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PGP & the Critical Assessment of Genome Interpretation

September 9, 2015

CAGI logo

We’re thrilled to announce that data from the Harvard Personal Genome Project is being used in a challenge this year presented by the Critical Assessment of Genome Interpretation (CAGI). CAGI challenges test the ability of researchers to interpret genome data and make phenotype predictions.

PGP data is uniquely valuable for these challenges as it is completely “open source”: the algorithms and data can be completely open. In this challenge, experimenters are asked to predict matching phenotype profiles for a set of genomes. To read more about the challenge, follow this link to CAGI’s website:

The 2015 Harvard PGP conference

August 31, 2015

Next month, the Harvard Personal Genome Project will hold its annual U.S. conference (MindEx 2015) and labs events (PG-Palooza) in Cambridge, MA. The conference will take place on Saturday, September 12 at Harvard University’s famed Sanders Theatre. PG-Palooza labs will be held on Sunday, September 13 at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, all PGP participants will be admitted to both MindEx and PG-Palooza for free!

In years past, the PGP was featured at the GET Conference. This year, the GET Conference is going international. It will take place in Vienna (Sept 17-19, and will feature Genom Austria, and other members of the growing international PGP consortium.

For this year’s U.S. MindEx conference, the Harvard PGP is working together with the Mind First Foundation, and a focus of the conference will be the mental realm: mind and brain, cognition and behavior. Still, as in previous years, the U.S. conference and labs will provide its established focus on open source genomics and citizen participatory science.

To register as a PGP participant for MindEx, please click here to visit the MindEx and PG-Palooza page at the Harvard PGP website (you’ll need to log in to your account), and click on the “Participate” button at the bottom of the page, or go straight to the appropriate EventBrite page ( We recently made all registration free, so simply use Public Registration. At the conference we’ll register you separately for PG-Palooza, which is open only to those enrolled in the PGP.

More about MindEx and PG-Palooza

Conference speakers will include PGP founder and Harvard Professor Dr. George Church, Dr. Ron Kessler (Harvard Medical School), Dr. Martine Rothblatt (United Therapeutics), Dr. Ed Boyden (MIT Synthetic Neurobiology Group), Dr. Richard Wrangham (Harvard), Dr. Madeleine Price Ball (PGP Harvard and Open Humans Project), Dr. Sasha Wait Zaranek (PGP Harvard and Curoverse), Dr. Jordan Smoller (Broad Institute, Harvard Medical, Massachusetts General Hospital), best-selling psychology author David McRaney, gut microbiome experts Justine Debelius and Dr. Siavosh Rezvan Behbahani, and more. PG-Palooza will feature presentations and collections of specimens and data by the Harvard PGP, American Gut, uBiome, LifeNaut, MindModeling@Home, H-Scan,, and more!

For additional details about the conference, labs, speakers, venues, hotels, directions and maps, visit the MindEx conference pages on the Mind First Foundation website (

We hope to see you there!

Oppenheimer Foundation survey results

May 5, 2015

The following is a guest post by Alan Oppenheimer. The Alan and Priscilla Oppenheimer Foundation seeks to advance humanity through scientific research and education and has been a long-time supporter of the Harvard Personal Genome Project. The views of this guest post, and responses from participants reported upon here, do not necessarily reflect the views of the Harvard Personal Genome Project. It is important to keep in mind that the Harvard Personal Genome Project study is not intended nor expected to help participants diagnose or improve personal health issues.

Following up on our previous blog post, here’s a quick summary of the results of the Harvard Personal Genome Project enrollee survey “What are you looking for in your genome, and how can we help you find it?” There were about 280 respondents.

The first questions were about the participant’s background. The “average” participant has been in PGP about 3 years, may or may not have donated a sample, is most interested in inherited disease risk, has 23andMe or FamilyTree/Ancestry DNA data, and is very computer savvy, reading articles/journals.

In terms of the key question in the title of the survey, participants would slightly prefer their genome analysis through either current tools like GET-Evidence and Promethease or an easy-to-use overview tool, versus raw data or a genome browser (see figure below). Primary important factors in exploring their genome include medical analysis and broad, flexible in-depth data, both slightly favored over ease-of-use and accessibility of an overview (and significantly favored over the ability to share/compare with family members).

survey results

The most interesting items from the survey were the comments, mainly in the free-form “What else would you like to tell us” question at the end (entered by about 1/3 of the respondents). Most prevalent of those were:

  • “here’s what’s wrong with me that I’m hoping my genome will help me find/understand/fix” (which is thus the number one answer to the title of the survey)
  • “I wish there was a blood collection event in my area.”

Thanks to everyone who took part. Our next step after this survey: decide on what tool(s) we here at the Oppenheimer Foundation should start building (or assisting the Personal Genome Project with) to best address the survey responses.

VIDEO: Genomics in Medicine Panel at the 2014 GET Conference

April 10, 2015

At the 2014 Get Conference, Robert Green described how medical genetics is being integrated into primary care, Michael Linderman spoke on how to prepare the next generation of genomicists, and Diana Bianchi presented on how prenatal screening using sequencing of cell-free fetal DNA is revolutionizing prenatal care. Afterwards, they were led in a moderated discussion by Boston Globe reporter Carolyn Johnson. Watch the video.

VIDEO Sporty genomes: Are elite athletes born or made?

March 6, 2015

If a major goal of genomics research is to understand the underlying molecular causes of beneficial phenotypes, for purposes of promoting overall health in society, then perhaps sports, in many regards, can help facilitate this process. The canonical athletic phenotype, with highly desirable physical traits, may serve as a model for understanding optimal fitness. And certainly professional athletes, at the pinnacle of their respective sport, have tremendous social and economic influence by inspiring everyday athletes and fans alike to emulate their performances. Therefore, a deeper understanding (or at least discussion) of what makes an “elite” athlete, or who has the potential to become one, is warranted. With 99% percent of the human genome being identical, is it plausible to think we all have the inherent ability to become elite athletes? Or, do the remaining 30 million divergent nucleotides of our genetic code determine who can or cannot become an Olympian? At the annual Genes, Environment, and Traits (GET) conference, a sports genomics panel was held to discuss this provocative topic. Invited speakers were:

  • David EpsteinInvestigative reporter at ProPublica, former senior writer for Sports Illustrated, author of the New York Times best seller The Sports Gene.
  • Heidi Rehm, PhDChief Lab Director at Partners’ Laboratory for Molecule Medicine, associate professor of Pathology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, expert on genomic medicine & integrating genetic discovery into clinics
  • Mark Gerstein, PhDProfessor of Bioinformatics at Yale University, expert in human genome mining & annotation, author on over 400 computational biology research publications.
  • Jonathan Scheiman (moderator), a research fellow in the genomics laboratory of George Church, former Division I athlete, and NBA correspondent for an international radio show.

In a lively debate at the 2014 GET Conference – which included moments of scientific inquiry, levity, and moral contemplation – panelists engaged in discourse over the inheritability and trainability of athletic traits as well as selective pressure from society to enrich for performance phenotypes. Additional topics discussed included:

  • Evolution of athletic body types
  • Performance enhancing polymorphisms
  • Genetic tests and specialization of athletes at a young age
  • Genetic tests for ensuring athlete health – requisite or optional?
  • Whole genome sequencing of elite athletes for beneficial allele discovery
  • Professional athlete salaries vs. science funding – can we collaborate?!?
  • Quantified self and advanced analytics in professional sports
  • The future and potential of genomics in sports analytics
  • Competition, fairness, and genetic engineering

Practice vs. genetics. Nature vs. nurture. A timeless debate, with a new quantitative spin from current cutting edge advances in next generation genomics technologies. Never before has society had access to such powerful tools to read and write DNA. And athletes, with a history of transcending sport, are as are as popular as ever in mainstream culture. Perhaps the next revolution in science will entail a sports star allowing us all to peak into their biological greatness. Scientists vs. athletes? Why? As the sports genomics panel at the GET conference displayed, these are two communities that stand to benefit from playing on the same team.

Watch the video.

(special thanks to moderator Jonathan Scheiman for this written summary)

VIDEO: Future of Genomics, David Altshuler at 2014 GET Conference

February 20, 2015

David Altshuler presents his talk, “Future of Genomics” as part of the 2014 GET Conference.

Watch the video.

What are you looking for in your genome, and how can we help you find it?

February 19, 2015

The following is a guest post from Alan and Priscilla Oppenheimer.

If you are enrolled in PGP Harvard, you probably received a recent email that mentioned a survey that we, the Alan & Priscilla Oppenheimer Foundation, are inviting you to take. We’d like to share more about who we are and why we’re inviting PGP Harvard participants to take this survey. Although this survey is limited to PGP Harvard participants, we invite others to keep reading. Big changes are ahead that will start affecting us all!

About our foundation

We are a small science-focused family foundation, started in 2007. We knew we were small, but we still wanted to think big. When we became aware of Dr. Church’s new Personal Genome Project, we realized that it provided a great opportunity for a foundation like ours to make a big difference. We felt quite privileged when Dr. Church and his team said we could work with them, helping out where we could.

A few of the areas in which we feel we have made a difference include:

  • prototyping the current sequencing effort by sponsoring one of the first genomes beyond the original PGP 10
  • creating the initial study guide which helped potential PGP participants learn about genomics and pass the entrance exam (a predecessor to the current one)
  • helping out with a number of aspects of the GET conferences
  • and, most recently, planning and putting together the current survey.

Our faith in the PGP in particular and personalized health in general has been validated through a number of recent developments, President Obama’s newly announced Precision Medicine initiative being the most visible. Also, as indicated in the recent email, it’s great to see that the PGP has been able to send out almost all submitted enrollee blood samples for sequencing, that the project has spread from Harvard to Canada, the UK, Austria, and beyond, and has spun off important related efforts such as Open Humans.

About our survey

As the cost of a complete human genome sequence falls towards the $1000 mark, and such sequencing begins to become commonplace, it’s now time to ask the gratifying but difficult question of “What’s next?”. For the foundation, the answer is related to understanding what our now-obtainable complete sequence means. Helping to address this question has always been an underlying goal of the PGP, but it is only with recent successes that we have been able to begin focusing on it.

The current survey is our attempt to understand the ways in which PGP enrollees (and by extension many others worldwide) want to try to learn about, explore and understand their genomes. With that data in hand we can then focus our limited resources on one or two key tools to aid in that exploration. If you’re enrolled in PGP, we’d thus very much appreciate your taking our 10-minute survey.

Thank you for your time and your interest in personal genomics.

Alan and Priscilla Oppenheimer
The Alan & Priscilla Oppenheimer Foundation



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