Taking a Peek at the Experts’ Genetic Secrets

Is Esther Dyson, the technology venture capitalist who is training to be an astronaut, genetically predisposed to a major heart attack? Does Steven Pinker, the prominent psychologist and author, have a gene variant that raises his risk of Alzheimer’s, which his grandmother suffered from, to greater than 50 percent?

Did Misha Angrist, an assistant professor at Duke University, inherit a high risk of breast cancer, which he may have passed on to his young daughters?

On Monday, they may learn the answers to these and other questions — and, if all goes according to plan, so will everyone else who cares to visit a public Web site, http://www.personalgenomes.org/. The three are among the first 10 volunteers in the Personal Genome Project, a study at Harvard UniversityMedical School aimed at challenging the conventional wisdom that the secrets of our genes are best kept to ourselves.

The goal of the project, which hopes to expand to 100,000 participants, is to speed medical research by dispensing with the elaborate precautions traditionally taken to protect the privacy of human subjects. The more genetic information can be made open and publicly available, nearly everyone agrees, the faster research will progress.

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