Wednesday, September 17, 2008


When we look at each other we are all human beings. We can do things that no other animals can do. At the same time each one of us can do just a few of the things that people can do. We are all the the same but we are also so different. For many reasons, of course, but a good chunk of that reason relies on what variations are written on our DNA. Most of those variations, and from a mathematical entropy point of view I really mean a large percentage, can actually be read nowadays. What is even more true is that from this month, actually since last week, it has become extremely cheap, just $399.
Well, I confess, I could not resist. Maybe just to see the contempt on the faces of the people that will wonder how I could have taken such a despicable choice. Right now I am really looking forward to that. But the main reason is definitely pure curiosity. This means entering a new level of consciousness of ourselves. Even if so far most of what we can read we also cannot understand, the small parts that we do understand are already telling a lot. What am I talking about?
First of all, I know that a fourth of me is Greek but for the rest I only know that I am Italian. What does that mean? Not much, since Italian people are actually a messy mix. Is there anything in my DNA that will tell me more about that? Maybe not, but that is already an answer. This overall is already worth it a lot to me. But the real fun is around what each individual SNP being read in my DNA is going to tell. If you like Wikipedia then get ready for the new internet hit, that is, SNPedia. It is already there and it is growing. It aims at organizing all information that can be extracted from SNP data. Right now there are a lot of fun ones, from the SNP that increases your chances to get Alzeheimer to the one that apparently boosts your intelligence.
Many will say, and 23andMe will warn you, that some of what you can read might be knowledge that you would have never wanted and there will be no turning back. The Alzeheimer SNP is the best example. Who would want to know that his brain will slowly die?
I guess I am taking a risk since my paternal grandmother did suffer of a severe brain degeneration and if that was transmitted to my dad or not I guess I will never know unless I found out that I am affected as well. Overall I have only 25% chances. But would that make me really worried? I guess I would still live most of my life with the hope there will be some kind of solution.
Also, my belief is that if there is something that really will make my life a nightmare then it is my duty to make sure I will not transmit that. So if I ever decide to have children then I would never want them to feel the same. Therefore I would need to know that piece of information nevertheless, no matter how painful that could be.
But my belief is that there is nothing too scary written in my DNA and knowing that my mothernal grandparents are both healthy and they have both surpassed the average expected life makes even a little bit more comfortable.
Going back to what really makes me curios I can name a few things. Well, first of all, why am I so skinny and why do I seem to be unable to build up any fat whatsoever? I am sure one gene will not answer the question but a bit of truth would be appreciated. Why have I never developed any cavities even if I have never cleaned my teeth more than once a day? Am I eventually going to get completely bald? Am I resistant to HIV? What do the SNPs say about the fiber composition of my muscles? Why do I have no need for eyeglasses at all? Am I more susceptible than the average to develop lung cancer? And so much more.
It is hard to tell how many things will be known next year because a lot of studies are being developed right now. The more people will be statistically analyzed the more will be known. The only limit will be achieved when everybody on this planet will be genotyped.
Yes, everybody, and with me that means one less to go. Because once I send my sample of saliva I will enter the statistics pool, so if I have a trait I am curios about and nothing is known about it so far, then by giving my data I am providing my own little piece of evidence. Wait a minute. So maybe I should be paid to get my DNA analyzed. Well, this might be stretching it a little bit too much but it is indeed a do ut des thing to do. And knowing that 23andMe is owned in part by Google makes me feel even better about where my money go. That is, the right place.
I want to finish giving my personal opinion. I like to think that our brain and our body are two very distinct things that need each other to exist. Since our brain starts interacting with the world, it starts a journey that is an evolution of its own that stops only with our death. Our body, on the contrary, evolves really little. Natural selection shaped it for a long time, but its journey is about over now. We all need our body in our journey and it would be nice if we could keep it functional. I think this is a new effective way to do that. I really would not want to miss it.

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