My Genome, Myself: Seeking Clues in DNA – New York Times

Religion / Science

Speaking of ethical issues and the life sciences, there’s a bunch of articles today about a new company offering to decode a person’s DNA for about a $1000 a pop.

The author of the piece in the NYTimes writes:

“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.

…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.”

It’s the last paragraph that starts to raise the warning flags for me. There’s a long debate in biology about whether our characteristics are primarily determined by nature or by nurture. The jury’s still out as far as I understand, but that won’t stop people from making decisions based on the above information as if the question was settled on the side of “nature”.

The real problem is going to be the boutique baby business. There’s already a booming business in the developing world of local ultra-sound clinics where the primary task is determine the gender of a baby before birth. If the child is of an undesirable gender, the child is aborted and the parents try again.

What if we start testing (on the sly) for IQ? Or fatty diet tolerance? Or height? Or…

The Episcopal Church has taken a stance that abortion for gender-selection is morally wrong. Is it time to revisit the question now that new information is becoming available before birth?

To say nothing of the issue of life and health insurance testing… Or job selection… Or…

Read the rest here.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. One thing that could potentially make nature vs. nurture a more interesting debate is epigenetics.
    Not being a biologist I’m not sure about the credibility of it, but on one recent episode of Nova on PBS there was some discussion of a study where gene expression was affected by what was basically lifestyle in previous generations. In that case it wasn’t a chosen lifestyle (something about food accessibility in grandparents related to diabetes in the grandchildren) but I can imagine that there could be cases where a chosen lifestyle makes a difference in a person’s or a person’s offspring’s gene expression.
    Unless you’re a hard-core determinist already committed to all nurture really being nature, new discoveries along these lines could mix things up a good bit. Hopefully if there are discoveries like this to be made, they get made soon enough that we can use them.

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