One morning in October, I was frantically scrambling around my apartment, trying to find a thumb drive.
It's probably the most valuable thumb drive I'll ever have, and I couldn't believe I had misplaced it. It contains the blueprint of who I am: My genome. Or at least, all the ways my genes differ from other people's.
It turns out, in the grand scheme, we're all very, very similar, genetically: 99.9 percent of people's genes are identical. It's in that last one-tenth of 1 percent where we find all of human variation — those things that make us special: athletic abilities (not so much in my case), frizzy hair (unfortunately for me) … and in some cases, a predisposition to disease.
I had set out in August to have my genome sequenced, mainly out of curiosity. There was no problem I was trying to solve or specific answer I was seeking. That puts me in the minority of people who have their genomes sequenced today. As my geneticist, Harvard Medical School's Dr. Robert Green, likes to tell me, I'm among a group of medical pioneers.
This made me feel very cool of course, but having your genome sequenced is a scary thing. What if I learned something dreadful? What if I was destined to get a disease that has no cure? What if I carried mutations that could burden my future children with something awful? Did I really want to know?
Obviously, given my hunt for the thumb drive, the answer is yes. Our ability to map our own genes will be a bigger and bigger part of our medical care even in just the next decade. President Barack Obama has announced a Precision Medicine Initiative to accelerate what's possible using this genetic information. And already, gene sequencing is making major impacts on cancer care, diagnostics and drug development.
But it's still controversial how much genome sequencing is necessary, or even very useful on a personal level. Huge questions loom about cost, privacy and our own abilities to handle this kind of knowledge about ourselves.
I was about to find that out about myself.