Gene Expression

The genomic future is almost here?

Technology dramatically speeds gene mapping. A short little piece which repeats the standard mantras; faster, cheaper and better. The Human Genome Project was proof of principle. Right now, with all the stuff that is starting to bubble up around personal genomics it looks like we’re at a technological and social point of no return, the second derivative is positive, the the rate of change is increasing. Hsien-Hsien is going to have to start getting a bit more selective about what she blogs about since the sample space of upon which the commentary is based will start to rapidly increase in size.

Though I do have to say stuff like this gets a bit old:

But if the Genographic Project proves anything, it’s that people are more similar than they are different, since current evidence suggests everyone shares an ancestral connection to Africa, according to the project’s director, Spencer Wells.

“When you look beneath the surface at our DNA, we’re so closely related,” he said. “We’re members of an extended family. And so I would hope people would realize that.”

No shit we’re more similar than we’re different!!! I mean, we’re more similar than we’re different when we compare a human sequence to a chimp, a dog, a mouse. I’m more similar to you, dear reader, than I am to a chimpanzee, I can guarantee you that. But, I’m more similar to my brothers than I am to you, dear reader, by some fraction of genes that are identical by state and vary within the human population. Let’s keep it real, some of the most interesting stuff coming out of genomics is going to be how people are different, special, unique if you will. People aren’t going to pay money to find out how they’re just like everyone else, they want to know specific things about them which they don’t know logically from the fact that they are human (e.g., would you ask a genomics company to check to see if your profile matches that of an organism with a bilateral body plan?).

Granted, there is the major issue of low frequency disease causing alleles. Here are situations where you want to know that you’re like everyone else, and if you aren’t, perhaps you’re a carrier so you need to know this in terms of planning your life with your spouse if they are a carrier as well. But here again the issue is variation. If you find out that you are Wild Type, great for you, but that’s the expectation. If you find out that you have a minority frequency allele which might cause issues, well, the consequences are grave. Similarly, there are a range of genes which are highly polymorphic and alleles of moderate frequency are just floating around segregating within the population. This is where the meat of the stuff people are going to pay for is going to be. Do I have an allele that makes susceptible to a freaky disease (or my offspring?). What alleles do I have which contribute to the normal range of variation and what does that mean for my potential offspring? If similarity between people was where all the fruit were we would have stopped at Craig Venter’s genome. At a certain point this stuff about “We’re all so similar!” starts to get insulting. After all, I look at a monkey, and I look at a random person on the street, and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not that different from that person when compared to the monkey (no offense to monkeys).


  1. #1 jim
    November 19, 2007

    Well, a large section of the populace — and most of the intellectual and media class — is committed to the idea that all types of people are equal at birth in all important ways.

    There are certain ideas which are basically unthinkable to the average right-thinking liberal — the idea of genetic differences in things like IQ that correspond, however roughly, with racial and ethnic differences is one of those verboten ideas.

    Personally I think liberals should use this evidence to target low-IQ groups for early childhood education. The evidence shows we can raise IQ with early stimulation and education.

    But I think the “we are all the same” refrain is just an attempt to hold back the mounting flood of genetic evidence. Most people want us all to be the same.

    Most people I know, and I know mostly well-educated American liberals, honestly believe there is no such thing as “race”. They honestly believe that science disproved the existence of racial groups long ago and only racists believe in them anymore.

    In my social world the single worst thing a white person can be is racist, so most liberals are terrified of thinking thoughts which might lead them to accept anything resembling racial differences. (My asian friends seem much less concerned about being accused of racism.)

    They aren’t bad people, they mean well. In the long run we’re going to have to accept the world as it is — and every year we’re going to learn more and more about our genetic nature. This likely will be that different subgroups (whether racial or ethnic) have important differences and predispositions in mental and psychological traits.

  2. #2 Mr. Gunn
    November 19, 2007

    Oh, dear. Prepare for massive moaning and misunderstanding of the fact that DNA is not destiny.

    Since almost everything we know about SNPs comes from the study of disease, and relatively little about what things promote longevity, you’re going to get more information about what you’re at risk for and less info about advantageous mutations.

    jim, the answer to the “are we all equal at birth” question is, and will remain until far in the future when we know how all the various SNPs interact, “We don’t have enough information to say one way or the other.”

  3. #3 Caledonian
    November 19, 2007

    the fact that DNA is not destiny.

    Go tell that to someone with Huntington’s.