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welcome to the age of genomics November 17, 2007

Posted by KG in berkeley, health, news, science, tech.
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couple of interesting articles from wired & nytimes

“23AndMe Will Decode Your DNA for $1,000. Welcome to the Age of Genomics”:

A lot of spit, as it turns out. It takes about 10 minutes of slavering to fill the 2.5-milliliter vial that comes in the fancy lime box provided by 23andMe. Wrap it up, call FedEx, and two to four weeks later you get an email inviting you to log in and review your results. There are three main sections to the Web site: Genome Labs, where users can navigate through the raw catalog of their 23 pairs of chromosomes; Gene Journals, where the company correlates your genome with current research on a dozen or so diseases and conditions, from type 2 diabetes to Crohn’s disease; and Ancestry, where customers can reach back through their DNA and discover their lineage, as well as explore their relationships with ethnic groups around the world. Family members can share profiles, trace the origin of particular traits, and compare one cousin’s genome to another in a fascinating display of DNA networking. Avey herself has had roughly 30 members of her extended family genotyped, spanning four generations. The effort has turned her clan into what is likely the most thoroughly documented gene pool in the world.

One afternoon I was working up my own 2.5 milliliters of spit at the company’s office when Jimmy Buffett dropped by to get an early peek at his results. A few month’s earlier, the singer had let 23andMe peruse his genotype and compare his genealogy to Warren Buffett’s. The two men had long wondered if they were somehow related (they aren’t, it turns out). Now Jimmy wanted to check out the whole experience. He sat down in front of a laptop in Wojcicki’s office, and she looked over his shoulder, guiding him through the site. First he clicked through his ancestral genome, noting that his maternal lineage showed a strong connection to the British Isles. “So the women came over with the Saxon invasion; pretty cool,” he said. Another click and he perused his similarity to other ethnic groups, spotting a strong link to the Basque region of Spain. “No wonder I like Basque food so much,” he noted.

Then he clicked over to see his disease risks — and was transfixed. “Wow. Right, that’s about right for my family,” he said as he ran through various conditions. After about 45 minutes of self-discovery, he leaned back in his chair to put it all together. “Boy, this can get pretty fascinating. And every time some research comes out, I can log on and see how it works for me. I get it,” Buffett said with a laugh. “You guys are mad scientists.”

“My Genome, Myself: Seeking Clues in DNA”:

I had refused to drink milk growing up. Now, it turns out my DNA is devoid of the mutation that eases the digestion of milk after infancy, which became common in Europeans after the domestication of cows.

But it could also make me question my presumptions about myself. Apparently I lack the predisposition for good verbal memory, although I had always prided myself on my ability to recall quotations. Should I be recording more of my interviews? No, I decided; I remember what people say. DNA is not definitive.

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.

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