Kenneth M. Weiss, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus, Penn State Department of Biology, discusses his work and research studying the role of genetics in biological variation.
Dr. Weiss has earned a reputation of excellence in his long career in the field of biology. His passion for understanding disease pathways has put him at the center of biological research. Dr. Weiss has a particular interest in the complex effects of genetic variations on cardiovascular disease, and he has worked extensively on the study of diabetes susceptibility in Amerindians. Dr. Weiss has a thirst for scientific understanding. His work has led him to search for answers in multiple areas such as morphological traits in vertebrate evolution and biodemography, which is concerned with understanding the basis of complementary biological and demographic determinants of, as well as the interactions between, the birth and death processes as they relate to individuals, populations, longevity, and fitness.
Dr. Weiss discusses the role of genes in the development of complex traits (blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) and biological variations. His work poses many questions and looks at the relevance of the study of genes and its impact on human health and the future of medical science. He states, for most traits, the genetic aspects are extremely complex. He explains that the widely held concept of precision accuracy in genetic prediction, in regard to mapping out an individual’s future health (and potential health problems) is actually misleading because it is much more complex with individual variability. He recounts how science got off track in this regard because we as a society are impacted by history. And regarding history, many assumptions were made based on historical genetic variance research done by Johann Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics who discovered the fundamental laws of inheritance.
The genetics expert lays out some of the problems with precision genomic medicine. As he states, one person’s genome can be vastly different than the next person’s. Thus, with countless variations of the human genome, and with a finite amount of samples being looked at, accuracy and precision in predictive genomic medicine iaremore difficult than some might think. Dr. Weiss underscores that there are so many factors that come into play such as what we eat, where we live, the climate of our local environment, our occupations, etc.
Dr. Weiss discusses gene issues and the concept of using CRISPR to repair problem genes. CRISPR technology is a tool for editing genomes that allows researchers to alter DNA sequences and thereby modify gene function.
Dr. Weiss is active in worldwide organizing efforts to sample and study the human genome, for the primary goal of answering important anthropological and biomedical questions.