Saturday, November 17, 2007

DNA: It's who you are

This article blew my little unscientific mind. Apparently for a small (cough) fee, we're all going to be able to "read" our personal genomes the way fortune tellers read our palms... only this time, the results will have that added credibility and the fatalistic weight of science behind them.

The writer of the article, Amy Harmon, notes that both her dislike of brussels sprouts and her arthritis are genetically sourced. Breast milk really does increase intelligence (woo-hoo Bogart babies all of whom nursed for a combined total of 12 years and have the mental chops to show for it).
And although there is great controversy about the role that genes play in shaping intelligence, it was hard to resist looking up the SNPs that have been linked — however tenuously — to I.Q. Three went in my favor, three against. But I found hope in a study that appeared last week describing a SNP strongly linked with an increase in the I.Q. of breast-fed babies.
She raised the specter of how insurance companies might misuse the information once public.
I was not always so comfortable in my own genome. Before I spit into the vial, I called several major insurance companies to see if I was hurting my chances of getting coverage. They said no, but that is now, when almost no one has such information about their genetic make-up. In five years, if companies like 23andMe are at all successful, many more people presumably would. And isn’t an individual’s relative risk of disease precisely what insurance companies want to know?
Totally interesting!


Kansas Bob said...

Another argument for true universal healthcare:

"Before I spit into the vial, I called several major insurance companies to see if I was hurting my chances of getting coverage. They said no, but that is now, when almost no one has such information about their genetic make-up."

Drew said...

Good point Bob.

I also wonder how close reading comes to the desire to augment the code.

That is something I would rather ignore, but should we discuss it more seriously?

"Sir...Ma'am, your son will likely be born gay with brown eyes. Now for a mere $20,000 we can reduce the probability homosexuality will take by a whopping 50%. Of course that cost goes up and the probability decreases as with all of our genetic massage services... Eye color probability reduction and transfer to a new color is available for 50% off with any of our other services and by itself will cost you only $7,500 to transfer probability to a new color. Keep in mind that we guarantee the probability, and not the actual result that might occur. Payment in full follows our patented and complete statistical analyses following the actual outcome 8 weeks after birth."

Gattaca eat your heart out.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, did you see Dr Venter (part of the government-funded project to decode the human genome) on The Colbert Report? Dr Venter on Colbert
Really, watch it! It is so interesting.

Dave said...

Our children were all breast-fed as well, and they are smarties indeed!

This is very interesting and exciting information, of course prone to all sorts of wicked, malicious abuse and all, but still quite fascinating to explore and I imagine that many of us will eventually have it conveniently at our disposal.

As we further refine our ability to arrange ourselves according to types, I suppose that I'll someday miss the sheer elegance and simplicity of the Myers Briggs categories. The thrill of locating and bonding with other ENFPs may pale in comparison to connecting with my genetic lookalikes in years to come! :o)

julieunplugged said...

Drew, what an interesting question:
What would parents do if they could "alter" someone's genetic predisposition toward homosexuality? Great question.

I wonder what the ethical responsibilities would be in that case...

julieunplugged said...

Lisa, I did see that Colbert Report. His special DNA show is my favorite of all too.

Sentient Marrow said...

Just wanted you to know that I am here on the edges... I miss the more in depth everyday... facebook is nice but doesn't go deep. I am hoping that someone gets me a laptop for Christmas but I know it's a complete longshot...

Anyway, I want to keep up with your life, too!


isaiah said...


Is it in my DNA to not really need to know all that I am and I am not?

I can see where some would want and need to know.

Both sets of my wife's grandparents were alcoholics- neither her mom or dad have ever abused alcohol. Is that genetics or the lessons of living through a certain type of hell for many years?

What happens when we know. Do we give ourselves and out because we are predisposed to a certain this and that?

When we know- what do we know?

P.S. Interesting essay from Susuan Estrich at my blog (I thought of you when I posted it and then came right over to discover: "DNA: It's who you are."

The beauty is in the mystery- for me.