a his & hers weblog of worlds apart

Genetics for fun, not health

Lately, I’ve had a couple friends ask me about the genetics of things like athleticism, intelligence and homosexuality. Regardless of the question, my answer is the same: I have no idea. The focus of my training was solely on medical genetics. When we did disucss genetic testing for non-medical traits, it was generally within the context of the surrounding ethical, legal and social issues. To be honest, I fear the use of genetics for non-medical reasons (as might anyone who has watched the movie GATTACA.) Nevertheless, I’ve decided to make an effort to be more informed in this area.

In browsing, one of the first things I came across was The Genius in All of Us, an interesting blog-to-be-book project by writer David Shenk. He’s posting pieces of his book-in-progress (tentatively entitled “The Genius in All of Us: Nature, Nurture and the New Science of Talent and Giftedness”) and is actively seeking feedback from readers in order to enhance the project. From what I have read so far, he provides a balanced yet skeptical look at the “science” behind the genetics of giftedness, and takes a critical approach to the way in which this science is portrayed in the media. It’s worth a look.

“Recreational genetics”: A useful paradigm

A while ago I posted about “recreational genetics,” a term that was refuted by a couple of commenters on this ScienceRoll post. I agree that drawing a definitive line between the practice of recreational and medical genetics is impossible. However, I think the concept is an important one in understanding the differences in motivations for seeking out genetic testing or pursuing genetic research.

This week 23andme dropped the price of their testing from $999 to $399. Despite their claims that they have “democratized personal genomics” the facts remain that:

  1. Their service is about fun, interest and curiosity.
  2. Someone with a serious health concern or family history of disease is hopefully turning to their doctor first, and is not paying $400 out-of-pocket for this testing.

So even though someone might gain some health-reated information (proven, research or otherwise) from the 23andme service, I would still argue that the test is recreational in nature.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am planning to look into and post about a few recreational genetics topics, starting with athleticism. If there is a topic you are interested in or a good resource you know of– please feel free to pass along.

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This entry was posted on September 14, 2008 by in Her Nature Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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