Via steve hsu, there’s an article in the south china morning post regarding the sequencing of genomes from prodigy and avg children. i’ve previously mentioned this study with regards to the fearlessness of genetic research in asia.
The study will examine protein coding genes of the extremely smart children, many of whom are expected to enroll at Harvard, Yale or Cambridge. The results will be correlated with each youngster’s school test scores, in hopes of learning how specific genetic variations affect intelligence.
The study, which started in 2009 in Shenzhen, is moving to a new facility in Tai Po. By the end of this month, 115 of the world’s fastest sequencers – the HiSeq 2000 – will have relocated to the city. They will be able to sequence the equivalent of 1,000 human genomes a day, and soon surpass the entire sequencing output of the United States to become the world’s largest sequencing centre.
The study by BGI, which receives strong financial backing from the Shenzhen and mainland governments, will be the largest-scale examination of its kind. Ethical and privacy concerns have hindered such work in America and Europe.
it’s an amazing level of computational power that’s being aimed at this research. what’s interesting is that the genesis of this study was a child prodigy himself.
The idea of probing the genetic basis for human intelligence came after Beijing high school student Zhao Bowen , 17, who came to BGI on a summer internship last year to work on cucumbers, solved an assignment within a few hours that scientists expected to take him weeks.
Zhao is working as a full-time researcher now, and he will study the genes of 1,000 of his best-performing schoolmates from the affiliated high school of China’s prestigious Renmin University, where some of the smartest children from across the country have been sent. It’s a collaboration project between the institute and the high school.
in a separate article, the scmp reporter covers some of the possible pitfalls of laying uncomfortable truths out so starkly.
As biological professor Dennis Hedgecock from the University of Southern California cautioned: “Investigations into genetic differences among humans, whether in intelligence or propensity towards disease, always run the risk of creating a basis for discrimination.”
An editorial in Nature this summer, “Do scientists really need a PhD?” expressed some of these concerns. Given that the average age of BGI’s 3,000 staff is 25, “Will they understand not just the science and technology of their research, but also ethical aspects such as … the protection of confidential human-subject information?”
the avg age of the chinese researchers coupled with western ethical concerns recall to mind malcolm’s critique of hammond’s vision for jurassic park:
I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here: it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility… for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it!
the period between gaining the knowledge and being able to do something elegant to address it will be what’s interesting. the past has shown that ppl won’t hesitate to resort to crude solutions. i’m sure no one is looking to repeat those mistakes, but i wonder if the temptation will be too great?