Written by: Stephen Hsu
Primary Source: Information Processing
I’m often asked about the status of the BGI cognitive genomics project. A fairly long article about it appeared in WIRED recently. I have quite a lot of experience with the media from tech startup days, as well as from coverage of my physics and genomics research. My advice is to read everything with a grain of salt. Most journalists have the best intentions, but the complexity of the topics they try to cover makes their task extremely difficult.
While I cannot give a comprehensive update, I can state that
- Volunteers who qualified for the study via cog-genomics.org and returned their samples by approximately September 2012 have all been sequenced on the Illumina platform, and will receive updates on the status of their genomic data relatively soon.
- The relationship between BGI and Illumina has deteriorated since the acquisition of Complete Genomics by the former, which was vigorously opposed (ostensibly on national security grounds, believe it or not) by the latter. Our project has not escaped collateral impact from this development.
In other news, the documentary DNA Dreams (about our project) has won the Film & Science Award and has been selected by various film festivals throughout the world, including in Italy, France, USA and Denmark and the Grand Competition of Pariscience. It has also been acquired by several international broadcasters, including Sweden (SR), Japan (NHK), Germany and France (ARTE). See trailer below.
My comments on the documentary from an earlier post:
- As you might expect, it emphasizes sensational aspects of our research — genetic engineering, drugs for cognitive enhancement, etc. These are all possibilities, obviously topics we discussed at the behest of the film makers, but of course for now our work is basic research with no near term applications. (Basic research tends to be less interesting to viewers than science fiction extrapolations.)
- I find the video visually interesting, but at times it emphasizes the alien or sinister. Even the musical background seems chosen for this purpose.
- Several important members of our team have little or no role in the documentary, despite being interviewed extensively during its making. I suppose the director was limited in what she could include, given the 60 minute format. The young woman who leads the cloning team is not actually part of our group.