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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Do you like chocolate? Your genes say so...

From
The Daily Galaxy


Want to know what your genes say about you? According to geneticists, your genes could be saying quite a lot! Your genetics may dictate, for example, what foods you like, what diseases you are prone to develop, how smart you are, and likely factor into nearly every aspect of your being. It’s no wonder that some people would like to take a peek at their personal genetic blueprint.

Three companies are now offering such services. Not only will they test your DNA at nearly one million separate locations where the human genome is known to vary from person to person, but they also help clients interpret what their individual map says about their past, present and future. However, genetics is still an imperfect science. Your genes could indicate you have a very high risk of developing arthritis down the road, for example, but in actuality you may never suffer from stiff joints. Even so, scientists have been mapping out genetic differences for some time now, and have made huge strides in interpreting DNA. Understandably, many individuals would like to know what they’re made of.

The company 23andMe announced its DNA testing service last month in San Diego. You might think such a comprehensive analysis would costs thousands, but the process is actually relatively affordable. For less than $1,000 customers are able to learn virtually everything science currently knows about their biological code. For those wary of needles, you’ll be comforted to know that the DNA is retrieved conveniently and painlessly from a home mail-in saliva test kit.

But not everyone wants to know what their DNA says about them. What if you found out you had a high propensity for developing a rare, incurable disease? Would you really want that kind of information weighing down on you? You don’t have to look at all of the information if you don’t want to, but who could resist asking such questions as: Do I have the genes associated with longevity? Do I possess genes linked to high intelligence? Do I have the “fat” gene, or the “skinny” gene?

Clients admit that looking into these traits can become almost an obsession. Clients have access to their own “Gene Journal”, which includes a visual bar chart that shows “good” genes in green and undesirable ones in red. For example, you can see in percentages what your chances of developing Alzheimer’s are. You may find that you are 45% less likely to develop diabetes than others, but 25% more likely to develop heart disease. All of these differences stem from the roughly 10 million tiny variations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs weaved into the 23 pairs of human chromosomes (hence the name “23andMe”) The company generates a list of their clients’ “genotypes” — AC’s, CC’s, CT’s etc, based on which SNPs are found on the clients collection of chromosome pairs.

It’s debatable whether knowing your likelihood of developing disease is a good thing or not. Many argue that knowing what risk factors you face allow you to more effectively plan preventative measures. Others say it could needlessly cause worry, especially since scientists are discovery new information daily, some of which contradicts previous finding. But perhaps the biggest argument against mapping out individuals genetic blueprint; isn’t that just the sort of thing an insurance company would like to find out? That thought scares some. What happens when genetic profiling goes mainstream? Could major insurance companies eventually figure out how to legally (or illegally) peek into potential clients profiles? For now the answer is definitely no, but who knows what could happen in the future, especially if companies like 23andMe start appealing to the masses? However, it is extremely likely that legislation will continue to prevent insurance companies from discriminating based on DNA. In the mean time, knowing what your risk factors are may act as it’s own form of prevention insurance. Either way you look at it, it’s a highly personal decision; do you want to know the secrets of self, or are some things are better left unanswered...

Posted by Rebecca Sato
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