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It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The human genome promise to earn some people some money

Again, thanks to NY Times, please read the following article I'll be quoting as it's extremely fun and interesting.
An infant industry is capitalizing on the plunging cost of genetic testing technology to offer any individual unprecedented — and unmediated — entree to their own DNA.
For as little as $1,000 and a saliva sample, customers will be able to learn what is known so far about how the billions of bits in their biological code shape who they are. Three companies have already announced plans to market such services, one yesterday.

Offered the chance to be among the early testers, I agreed, but not without reservations. What if I learned I was likely to die young? Or that I might have passed on a rogue gene to my daughter? And more pragmatically, what if an insurance company or an employer used such information against me in the future?

But three weeks later, I was already somewhat addicted to the daily communion with my genes. (Recurring note to self: was this addiction genetic?)

For example, my hands hurt the other day. So naturally, I checked my DNA.

Was this the first sign that I had inherited the arthritis that gnarled my paternal grandmother’s hard-working fingers? Logging onto my account at 23andMe, the start-up company that is now my genetic custodian, I typed my search into the “Genome Explorer” and hit return. I was, in essence, Googling my own DNA.

I had spent hours every day doing just that as new studies linking bits of DNA to diseases and aspects of appearance, temperament and behavior came out on an almost daily basis. At times, surfing my genome induced the same shock of recognition that comes when accidentally catching a glimpse of oneself in the mirror.

I had refused to drink milk growing up. Now, it turns out my DNA is devoid of the mutation that eases the digestion of milk after infancy, which became common in Europeans after the domestication of cows.

But it could also make me question my presumptions about myself. Apparently I lack the predisposition for good verbal memory, although I had always prided myself on my ability to recall quotations. Should I be recording more of my interviews? No, I decided; I remember what people say. DNA is not definitive.

I don’t like brussels sprouts. Who knew it was genetic? But I have the snippet of DNA that gives me the ability to taste a compound that makes many vegetables taste bitter. I differ from people who are blind to bitter taste — who actually like brussels sprouts — by a single spelling change in our four-letter genetic alphabet: somewhere on human chromosome 7, I have a G where they have a C.

It is one of roughly 10 million tiny differences, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) scattered across the 23 pairs of human chromosomes from which 23andMe takes its name. The company generated a list of my “genotypes” — AC’s, CC’s, CT’s and so forth, based on which versions of every SNP I have on my collection of chromosome pairs.

For instance, I tragically lack the predisposition to eat fatty foods and not gain weight. But people who, like me, are GG at the SNP known to geneticists as rs3751812 are 6.3 pounds lighter, on average, than the AA’s. Thanks, rs3751812!

And if an early finding is to be believed, my GG at rs6602024 mean that I am an additional 10 pounds lighter than those whose genetic Boggle served up a different spelling. Good news, except that now I have only my slothful ways to blame for my inability to fit into my old jeans.

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.

Babies with the CC or CG form of the SNP apparently benefit from a fatty acid found only in breast milk, while those with the GG form do not. My CC genotype meant that I had been eligible for the 6-point I.Q. boost when my mother breast-fed me. And because, by the laws of genetics, my daughter had to have inherited one of my C’s, she, too, would see the benefit of my having nursed her. Now where did I put those preschool applications?

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?

Last month, alone in a room at 23andMe’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., with my password for the first time, I wavered (genetic?) and walked down the hall to get lunch.

Once I looked at my results, I could never turn back. I had prepared for the worst of what I could learn this day. But what if something even worse came along tomorrow?

Some health care providers argue that the public is unprepared for such information and that it is irresponsible to provide it without an expert to help put it in context. And at times, as I worked up the courage to check on my risks of breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, I could see their point.
One of the companies that plans to market personal DNA information, Navigenics, intends to provide a phone consultation with a genetic counselor along with the results. Its service would cost $2,500 and would initially provide data on 20 health conditions.
DeCODE Genetics and 23andMe will offer referrals. Although what they can tell you is limited right now, all three companies are hoping that people will be drawn by the prospect of instant updates on what is expected to be a flood of new findings.

My comment: Isn't this great? I mean utterly great? I absolutely don't believe in the dominance of genes, I think it's our awareness that chooses and decides and nothing else. But still, great many good effects may come from here- knowing your genetically weak sides you can work out a way to minimize any health-risk or to iron our the effects of different neuro-chemistry leading to more explosive or passive character. We'll be able to explore to the maximum our life! Isn't it enough to make you dream? To see the world without body-hair or without major diseases or without premature death. A life that doesn't have to be over at 65! A life that can continue as long as we like. It sounds so sci-fie I simply couldn't not post it here.

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