Part of President Obama’s “precision medicine” initiative is the characterization of the genomes of one million American volunteers. The proposal includes characterizing several hundred thousand new participants, and connecting the data with genetic information from hundreds of thousands of participants whose genomes have been sequenced as part of other efforts.

Such efforts include a program by the Department of Veterans Affairs which has sequenced the genomes of approximately 200,000 veterans, and the NIH’s Electronic Medical Records and Genomics Network.

Creating the mechanisms that can link these different genomic databases together is a particularly compelling aspect of the Obama proposal, if we are to move away from what David Haussler recently bemoaned as an expanding “forest of unconnected silos” of genetic information.

In the meantime the unconnected forest continues to grow, in part due to private efforts at building genomic databases. One of the most significant of these is Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), the latest venture by Craig Venter. HLI has set the goal of sequencing one million individuals by 2020, and intends to sell access to its databases to drug developers and other healthcare companies.

Venter has stated that it would be a “naive assumption” to expect HLI’s databases to be “mingled” with government databases, which I suppose is not an unexpected position for a privately-funded effort to take.

Given the current challenges of interpreting genetic information one must ask, however, whether one million genomes is enough to provide strong predictive power. Maintaining proprietary silos may in fact be self-defeating for private and public institutions alike.

Reuters article: U.S. proposes effort to analyze DNA from 1 million people