Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Genetic Science vs. Big Business

So, we've entered the age of genomic sequencing. Sweet. Now you can send away for a kit, and with a couple swabs of your cheek to pick up some cells, you can learn everything that's wrong with you (at least so far as we understand what genes do and cause what, anyway).

So you get the results, and you find out that you're chances of getting cancer (any cancer, pick one, I don't care. it's for the sake of argument), are astronomical. You're facing an almost positive diagnosis in your future.

Lets say that you are a child when you learn this information. Lets say they tested you at birth. Do you tell the insurance companies? Do you hide the fact that you have a genetic predisposition for serious deathly illness from future employers? But it's in your files. What happens when the insurance companies find out? What happens to the price of your insurance when all of a sudden, they KNOW without a doubt, you're going to be needing serious payouts from them?

Have we really thought about the implications of this? What it means for us in the future? what it means for our children? For that matter, what about the human psyche? If you already know you're going to die young because of whatever terrible disease that's laying dormant in your cells, how does it change your life? What matters anymore? If it were me, Work certainly wouldn't be making my priority list. What's the point of working toward a future, when there's no future to work toward?

No. I think that I'll skip the swab and genotyping kit for now. I don't want to know when I'm going to die, and what's going to be the killer. And I sure as hell don't want anyone else getting their hands on that information. Maybe they can't jack up my insurance premiums, or deny me employment yet, but I have every confidence that big business will find a way to profit off of my genetic failures-- or, if not mine, not yet, Certainly, that is not the legacy I want to leave my children.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Human Vs. Animal

I found this article today, when I was doing my casual perusal of biology related news.

It says that there are as few as 50-100 genes unique to the human genome. Out of the 23,000 genes that this article says we humans have, that's less than half a percent. Half a percent gives us this intelligent consciousness, the ability to drastically alter our environment, and the desire to make a difference in the world. Half a percent elevates us from Primate, to Human. Somewhere in that half a percent, is the gene that disconnected us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

They're starting to study these human-specific genes now, and take a long look at them. Why they haven't really done this before now I don't know, but I bet that what they find is going to be really interesting. Or maybe it will be totally mundane. Wouldn't it be scandalous if in the half a percent, they couldn't find the gene that makes us so fundamentally different from the animal kingdom?

I think I might giggle at them.