Researchers have developed a new DNA tool that uses machine learning to accurately predict people's height and assess their risk for serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
The tool, or algorithm, predicts human traits such as height, bone density and even the level of education a person might achieve that is purely based on one's genetic material. However, the applications may not stop there.
"While we have validated this tool for these three outcomes, we can now apply this method to predict other complex traits related to health risks such as heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer," said lead author Stephen Hsu, from Michigan State University, US.
In the study, published in the journal Genetics, the researchers analysed the complete genetic makeup of nearly 5,00,000 adults using machine learning, where a computer learns from data.
The computer accurately predicted everyone's height within roughly an inch, findings revealed.
"The algorithm looks at the genetic makeup and height of each person. The computer learns from each person and ultimately produces a predictor that can determine how tall they are from their genome alone," Hsu said.
Importantly, while bone density and educational attainment predictors were not as precise, they were accurate enough to identify individuals who were at risk of having very low bone density with osteoporosis or were at risk of struggling in school.
They put the algorithm to work, evaluating each participant's DNA and teaching the computer to pull out these distinct differences.
"Our team believes this is the future of medicine. For the patient, a genomic test can be as simple as a cheek swab, with a cost of about $50," Hsu said.
"Once we calculate the predictors for genetically-based diseases, early intervention can save billions of dollars in treatment costs, and more importantly, save lives," he noted, adding "This is only the beginning." (IANS)