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Study of Genes and Diseases
At an Impasse

The era of personal genomic medicine may have to wait. The genetic analysis of common disease is turning out to be a lot more complex than expected.

Since the human genome was decoded in 2003, researchers have been developing a powerful method for comparing the genomes of patients and healthy people, with the hope of pinpointing the DNA changes responsible for common diseases.

This method, called a genomewide association study, has proved technically successful despite many skeptics’ initial doubts. But it has been disappointing since the kind of genetic variation it detects has turned out to explain surprisingly little of the genetic links to most diseases.

A set of commentaries in this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine appears to be the first public attempt by scientists to make sense of this puzzling result.

One issue of debate among researchers is whether, despite the prospect of diminishing returns, to continue with the genomewide studies, which cost many millions of dollars apiece, or switch to a new approach, like decoding the entire genomes of individual patients.

The unexpected impasse also affects companies that offer personal genomic information and that had assumed they could inform customers of their genetic risk for common diseases, based on researchers’ discoveries.

AIG Chief has Millions of Dollars
In Goldman Stock

Edward Liddy, the dollar-a-year chief executive leading the American International Group since its bailout last fall, still owns a significant stake in Goldman Sachs, one of the insurer’s trading partners that was made whole by the government bailout of AIG.

Liddy earned most of his holdings in Goldman, worth more than $3 million total, as compensation for serving on the bank’s board and its audit committee until he stepped down in September to take the job at AIG. He moved to AIG at the request of Henry M. Paulson Jr., then the Treasury secretary and a former Goldman director.

Details about Liddy’s holdings were disclosed in Goldman’s proxy statement and confirmed by an AIG spokeswoman, who said they constituted “a small percentage of his total net worth.” Liddy had already owned some stock in Goldman Sachs before joining its board in 2003.

He has said his goal is to dismantle the company and sell its operating units, using the proceeds to pay back the rescue loans. On Thursday, AIG said it had sold its car insurance unit, 21st Century Insurance, to the Zurich Financial Services Group for $1.9 billion.

Obama Unveils Plan for 10
High-Speed Rail Lines

President Barack Obama on Thursday highlighted his ambition for the development of high-speed passenger rail lines in at least 10 regions, expressing confidence in the future of train travel even as he acknowledged that the American rail network, compared to the rest of the world’s, remains a caboose.

With clogged highways and overburdened airports, economic growth was suffering, Obama said from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, shortly before leaving for a weekend trip to Latin America.

“What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” he said, “a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”

And he added, “There’s no reason why we can’t do this.”

Obama said the $8 billion included for high-speed rail projects in his stimulus package — to be spent over two years — and an additional $1 billion a year being budgeted over the next five years, would provide a “jump start” toward achieving that vision.

Deal Brings TV Shows
And Movies to YouTube

In another step in its transformation from an online jumble of amateur videos to a destination for mainstream TV programs and movies, YouTube said Thursday that it had signed deals with Sony, Lions Gate, MGM and other Hollywood studios to showcase thousands of TV episodes and hundreds of movies in a new “Shows” section of its Web site.

And Google, which owns YouTube, said it might eventually bring another innovation to the site: payment for some premium content.

The agreements with the studios are significant because YouTube dominates online video. Nearly two-thirds of all video views in the United States occur on YouTube, according to the measurement firm ComScore. Last month the site saw more than 90 million visitors, 10 times as many as the next biggest site, ComScore said.

But while YouTube, along with other new media properties like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, is seen as leading the challenge against traditional media companies, the company itself is struggling to profit from its digital popularity. Earlier this month, Credit Suisse published a detailed analysis of YouTube’s business, estimating that the site will lose approximately $470 million in 2009, as the costs of bandwidth and storage to stream more than 5 billion clips a month far exceed the revenue YouTube earns from advertising.

To attract more advertising, YouTube is striving to add more professionally produced video. The pacts with media companies allow YouTube to place ads before, during and alongside the videos and split the revenue with its partners.