Esther Dyson is a prominent force in the digital world, and is considered to be a member of the â€˜digeratiâ€™ (a term for people who are the movers and shakers of everything technological). She is the daughter of the famous physicist Freeman Dyson and the mathematician Verana Huber-Dyson.
According to Wikipedia, the company that Ms. Dyson founded, EDventure Holdings, analyzes the impact of emerging technologies and markets on economies and societies. In addition, Ms. Dyson is on the board of the genetics company 23andme. Her interest in genetics and emerging technology is undoubtedly one of the main reasons she has decided to become one of the â€œFirst 10.â€
The â€œFirst 10â€
The â€œFirst 10â€ (or â€œFirst Tenâ€) references ten volunteers who are part of the Personal Genome Project, or the PGP. The PGP, headed by Dr. George M. Church of Harvard, aims to develop affordable personal genome sequences as well as user-friendly data applications. Initially, the project will start by releasing the sequencing and complete medical records of 10 individuals. Because of issues of risk versus benefit and informed consent, the first set of ten volunteers will be people who have a â€œmasterâ€™s level or equivalent training in genetics or equivalent understanding of genetics research.â€ According to the PGP website, â€œ[p]roduction costs per subject range from $8K for a limited subset of the genome to over $200K per subject to cover a significant fraction of their DNA.â€ According to a recent New York Times article, the â€œprojectâ€™s volunteers will receive the one percent of their genome currently deemed most useful at a cost of $1,000.â€ This conflicts with the PGPâ€™s description of the cost, and Iâ€™m not sure what the discrepancy is about.
Ms. Dysonâ€™s Decision to Become One of the â€œFirst 10â€
Ms. Dyson recently gave a short talk (the video is available here) at Fortuneâ€™s iMeme conference in San Francisco about her part in the Personal Genome Project. A summer of the talk was posted at Xconomy.com, â€œLearning from Esther Dysonâ€™s Genomeâ€:
â€œFamous venture capitalist Esther Dyson explained her reasons for being one of Churchâ€™s first ten volunteers last week at Fortuneâ€™s first iMeme conference in San Francisco. Church (who is also an Xconomist) hopes to gather enough data from the project to speed research into the links between gene variations and both common and rare human diseases, and to accelerate progress toward more individualized health care based on patientsâ€™ genetic profiles.â€
In the comment section of the Xconomy.com post, youâ€™ll find a thought-provoking conversation led by Willy Lensch, Ph.D. ThePersonalGenome.com pointed out that the Dr. Lenschâ€™s first comment ended with a great sentence, so go check it out.
This week also saw an entire article in the Wall Street Journal titled â€œFull Disclosureâ€ by Ms. Dyson. In the article, Ms. Dyson points out that sometime this summer or early fall, her genome, her answers to a substantial health questionnaire, and all her medical records will be posted on the Internet for the entire world to see:
â€œI’m one of 10 members of Harvard geneticist George Church’s Personal Genome project. We all come to this with slightly different motivations, histories and medical records. But we share, in theory, the equivalent of a master’s degree in genetics, an age between 30 and 100, and a willingness to come to Boston to give blood, get our faces professionally photographed and sit down with one another to discuss strategy.â€
Ms. Dyson goes on to explain her motives for becoming one of the â€œFirst 10â€:
- She wants to show that thereâ€™s nothing especially magical about her genome – sheâ€™s actually more worried about releasing the questionnaire, which documents her behavior!
- She doesnâ€™t have any deep secrets or vulnerabilities;
- She wonâ€™t get fired and she has insurance (i.e. low potential for discrimination);
- She wants to examine the effects of personal genome sequencing on society;
- She believes such sequencing is inevitable, and;
- The project will generate useful data for others to use.