A Whole New DNA

Genetics is among the most exciting—and disturbing—frontiers of the information age. Just a few years after spending millions to map the human genome, science is now analyzing personal DNA at $99 a pop.


I recently got my results from 23andMe.  They sequenced about one million crucial base pairs of the 3.2 billion that make me me. Based on my genotype—set of traits—they suggest my risk profile for 120 conditions and provide megabytes of other interesting information, including inherited traits, drug interactions and ancestry clear back to the Neanderthals.

According to my genetic markers I have an elevated risk for:

Prostate Cancer
Lung Cancer
Colorectal Cancer

On the plus side I have a decreased risk for:

Alzheimer’s Disease
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Parkinson’s Disease
Multiple Sclerosis
Type 1 Diabetes

DNA isn’t destiny in most instances. Diet, exercise, stress, sleep and environment all play key roles in health and longevity. Discovering our genetic predisposition can help us fine-tune our lifestyle and know where to watch for potential trouble.

I like knowing the odds but not everyone is comfortable with this level of detail or with having his or her medical data accessible to others.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) protects Americans from discrimination by employers and insurers based on genetics. That doesn’t mean the information won’t be exploited someday. We have to weigh the benefits and possible downsides before deciding to turn over our hole cards.

At some point in the near future it may not be optional.

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