Healthy Nevada Project

The Healthy Nevada Project is a now years-long effort to study the health of people living in the northern portion of Nevada, bounded by the Sierra on one side and the deserts of Utah on the other.

As a part of an effort to understand what health issues might be particular to people in the Nevada region, The Healthy Nevada Project is planning to sequence the DNA of 40,000 Nevadans. 

The people who consent to join in the project will have their exomes sequenced by personal genomics company Helix, but they will also have the option of choosing a digital genomics app from Helix’ online marketplace for free. 

Helix co-founder Justin Kao, said this choice is important for engaging participants in research, and improving their acceptance and understanding of genomics.

During the pilot programme that was announced in September 2016, the project collected saliva samples from 10,000 Northern Nevadans with company 23andMe. 

“Our pilot phase used genotyping, which was a great start, but moving to exome sequencing and inviting an additional 40,000 people to participate will dramatically accelerate what we can learn about the human genome and has the potential to greatly improve preventative health and create incredible potential for new scientific discoveries,” Joseph Grzymski, principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project, said in a statement.

For instance, he said, Northern Nevada has a high rate of death from respiratory disease. Air quality in the region fluctuates from pristine to some of the worst in the country. 

“That’s one thing we could study,” Grzymski told Gizmodo. “You could imagine if we have enough data we might find some links between genetics and problems related to air quality.”

It’s unlikely, though, said Grzymski, that they’ll uncover some headline-grabbing mutation in the genetic code of Northern Nevadans.

“Do I expect to find a protective mutation because Nevadans have been isolated for a thousand years?” Grzymski joked. “No. Genetics is not going to solve every single problem. What we’re really trying to do is understand our population better and get people engaged in health conversations.”