As part of my project at The Edge which continues my engagement across Art, Science and Technology, I am seizing the opportunity to learn more about genetics, particularly consumer genetics and the rising services that promise to reveal insights into what makes you, you. Consequently, I have decided to have my DNA analysed by the US company 23andme.
While I have been aware of the existance of companies like 23andme for some time, Lone Frank’s book My Beautiful Genome re-sparked my interest in the topic. For only $99, the company claims to “empower you to better manage your health and wellness” and offers “over 200 personalized health & traits reports”, as well as access to the “largest genealogical DNA database in the world”.
I must admit that I am skeptical as to how taking part in genetic testing will empower me to manage my health, given my understanding that genes are only part of the story. Indeed, the functioning of genes (i.e. switching on and off) is determined on a micro and macro scale by a number of factors such as hormones and environment. As Matt Ridley comments from his book Nature via Nuture:
The truth is that nobody is in charge. It is the hardest thing for human beings to get used to, but the world is full of intricate cleverly designed and interconnected systems that do not have control centres […] It is the same with the body. You are not a brain running a body by switching hormones. Nor are you a body running a genome by switching on hormone receptors. Nor are you a genome running a brain by switching on genes that switch on hormones. You are all of these at once (1999, p.151).
So, while I don’t think gene testing is the answer, it is difficult to anticipate how I might react if the test identifies me as having an increased risk for a particular disease/condition. Will increased risk be something I will even share publically? At this point, I think I am most comfortable sharing ancestry info. In any case, it all remains to be seen. Expect an update soon!