The Frontal Cortex

Powers on the Genome

Richard Powers, one of my favorite novelists, just got his entire genome sequenced and wrote about the results for GQ:

I come from a long line of folks, on my mother’s side, with congenital difficulty making choices. My father’s family, on the other hand, are born snap deciders. This time the paternal genes won out, and half an hour after reading the invitation, I was on board.

So I went shopping. A day online gave me my first taste of the bewildering range of consumer genetic products. There was Family Tree DNA, specializing in tracing genetic genealogies. There was DNA Direct, whose Web site asked, “Do you have a chronic, undiagnosed condition? It could be genetic.” For $260, I could get tested for cystic fibrosis; for $370, I could learn whether I’m at elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Then there was Iceland-based deCODEme (“This is myCODE”), which could calculate my risks for twenty-five genetic maladies in one $985 package.

But why stop with just a few disease tests? As I always say, in for a few plot complications, in for the whole story.

Read the whole thing. And then read the Gold Bug Variations.


  1. #1 Larry Ayers
    October 21, 2008

    Powers is one of my favorite modern novelists. The Gold Bug Variations might be his best novel, but I also recommend Galatea 2.2, a great riff on the concept of computer AI.

  2. #2 whetstone
    October 21, 2008

    Agreed with Larry. If you’re reading this, world: The Gold Bug Variations is wonderful. I’d probably go with Galatea 2.2 as my second-favorite as well.

  3. #3 Shaun Sperl
    October 21, 2008

    That’s for the recommendations. I’ve read the Echomaker (great first 2/3 and okay last 1/3) and have Galatea 2.2 to read next. I will add Gold Bug Variations to my list.

  4. #4 jb
    October 22, 2008

    Anyone know if your DNA changes as you age?

  5. #5 Ian
    October 22, 2008

    “Anyone know if your DNA changes as you age?”

    Yep. It gets older!

  6. #6 jb
    October 22, 2008

    Ok. Thanks, Ian. Another question: does the DNA that you pass on as a parent change with time? In other words, would a child you fathered early in life receive the same DNA from you as a child that you fathered when you were 50 years older say? As I recall, fraternal twins don’t get exactly the same DNA, so if the DNA is different, does the difference reflect events in your life that happened in between the two conceptions: exposure to disease, perhaps or hazardous chemicals?

  7. #7 catlak
    October 22, 2008


  8. #8 David
    October 22, 2008

    Powers, like David Foster Wallace, is a writer ahead of his time. Thanks for the info.

  9. #9 ted
    October 23, 2008

    I would agree that Goldbug is, indeed, his masterpiece. Love story, mystery, and beautiful writing about present and past, science and music – an irresistible package. I think I’d place Echo Maker at #2.

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