Pioneering geneticist J. Craig Venter, co-founder and chief executive of Human Longevity, Inc., talks about genomics, synthetic biology and the future of medicine. (Washington Post Live)

Human Longevity co-founder Craig Venter spoke at The Post’s 2016 Transformers live journalism event May 18 in Washington, D.C. Learn more here.

“People are so concerned about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The reality now is if you have changes in those genes and no family history, your chance is only 50/50 for getting breast or ovarian cancer.

“That’s not what most physicians have been telling patients, because when those genes were first discovered, they were discovered in people where every member of the family had breast or ovarian cancer, so everybody overly extrapolated from that data.

“If, like in Angelina Jolie’s case, every woman in the family having breast or ovarian cancer, plus having those genetic changes means your odds go way up. What that actually means is there are a lot of other genetic changes we don’t know how to measure yet.

“BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes aren’t the actual causes of cancer, they’re sort of a message link to it. The genes that are in the families [in which]that every person has breast or ovarian cancer, those are the ones we want to look at to find out, so we can tell you whether your odds are 100 percent or zero.

“We think of the human body and the genome as an orchestra score, not just a single player. The whole genetics and genomics community thinks of genes as the central unit and thinks of disease as a one-letter change in those genes.

“That’s not how your biology works, that’s not mine. It works by having this constant symphony going on in a hundred trillion cells, second to second in our bodies. It all works together so we have to understand that degree of complexity to know how to change things in the future if we’re going to rewrite it and how to read it so that we can make intelligent predictions.”

J. Craig Venter
Co-founder, chairman and chief executive, Human Longevity, Inc.

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