Anne West, grade 12, is featured in a front-page article in the Oct. 1 edition of The Wall Street Journal that chronicles her mission to analyze her family’s genome. John, Anne’s father, had the family’s genome sequenced last year after being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in 2003. However, the resulting mass of raw data presented the Wests with the problem of compiling the information into something they could interpret.
Nathan Pearson, director of research for Knome, Inc., a personal genomics company, is quoted in the Journal piece as saying, “If you got an auctioneer to read out loud someone’s genome at six letters every second, it would take 34 years to finish.”
Using her family’s computer, Anne West decided to take on the monumental task of boiling down the data, a job typically reserved for large teams of scientists with highly advanced degrees. West, who has had a passion for biology since grade 5, has been using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to decipher the data.
According to the Journal, the work is daunting but rewarding. West spent six months decoding just one of 20,000 genes, but her work has led to some big opportunities, such as her summer stint in the laboratory of Harvard and MIT scientist George Church. In April, she was a speaker at the Genomes, Environments, Traits (GET) Conference in Boston, where she received business cards from scientists in the field. She is also working with researchers in Seattle on a paper that is partly based on the Wests’ genome, and in September traveled to a genomics conference in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., where she appeared as a panelist.
West thanked her science teachers at Harker, saying they played a large part in fostering the love of biology that has led her to this point. She credited Catherine Le, grade 5 science teacher, for sparking her initial decision to pursue biology; Scott Kley Contini, middle school science teacher, for his “rigorous course”; and Gary Blickenstaff, upper school biology teacher, who assisted her with the project and helped with her presentations at the Personal Genomes Conference and the GET Conference. “I’ve worked hard and of my own motivation, but it was never in isolation nor without help,” she said.