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data from large ongoing genetic
studies, scientists are creating
what they call “polygenic risk
Though the new DNA tests
o;er probabilities, not diagnoses,
they could greatly benefit medi-
cine. For example, if women at
high risk for breast cancer got
more mammograms and those at
low risk got fewer, those exams
might catch more real cancers and
set o; fewer false alarms.
Pharmaceutical companies can
also use the scores in clinical trials of preventive drugs for such
illnesses as Alzheimer’s or heart
disease. By picking volunteers who
are more likely to get sick, they can
more accurately test how well the
The trouble is, the predictions
are far from perfect. Who wants to
know they might develop Alzheimer’s? What if someone with a low
risk score for cancer puts off
being screened, and then develops cancer anyway?
Polygenic scores are also controversial because they can predict any trait, not only diseases.
For instance, they can now forecast about 10 percent of a person’s performance on IQ tests. As
the scores improve, it’s likely that
DNA IQ predictions will become
routinely available. But how will
parents and educators use that
To behavioral geneticist Eric
Turkheimer, the chance that
genetic data will be used for both
good and bad is what makes the
new technology “simultaneously
exciting and alarming.”
used a quantum
computer to model
a simple molecule.
That’s just the start.
IBM has simulated the electronic structure
of a small molecule, using a seven-qubit
WHY IT MATTERS
Understanding molecules in exact detail
will allow chemists to design more e;ective
drugs and better materials for generating and
KE Y PLAYERS
Harvard’s Alán Aspuru-Guzik
5 to 10 years
The prospect of powerful new quan-
tum computers comes with a puzzle.
They’ll be capable of feats of com-
putation inconceivable with today’s
machines, but we haven’t yet figured
out what we might do with those
One likely and enticing possibility:
precisely designing molecules.
Chemists are already dreaming
of new proteins for far more e;ective drugs, novel electrolytes for better batteries, compounds that could
turn sunlight directly into a liquid fuel,
and much more e;cient solar cells.
We don’t have these things
because molecules are ridiculously
hard to model on a classical com-
puter. Try simulating the behavior
of the electrons in even a relatively
simple molecule and you run into
complexities far beyond the capa-
bilities of today’s computers.
But it’s a natural problem for
quantum computers, which instead
of digital bits representing 1s and
0s use “qubits” that are themselves
quantum systems. Recently, IBM
researchers used a quantum computer with seven qubits to model a
small molecule made of three atoms.
It should become possible to
accurately simulate far larger and
more interesting molecules as scientists build machines with more qubits
and, just as important, better quantum algorithms. —David Rotman
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