Genome Paranoia At Its Craziest

Genome Paranoia At Its Craziest

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 29, 2007 in DNA Testing

genome babyAnnalee Newitz of the San Francisco Bay Guardian needs to read Eye on DNA and the rest of The DNA Network. She’s the author of Are you my genome friend? Home genomics: just another self-help scam? in which misinformation and exaggerations abound.

For instance:

A company called 23andme.com launched last week and got wads of media attention for being the first user-friendly Web site devoted to home genomics tests and analysis.

Nuh uh. Plenty of companies, like DNA Direct*, have been offering direct-to-consumer genetic testing for years!

For just $1,000, the company will take a swab of your cheek, sequence your genome, and tell you a bunch of things about how you fit into the Family of Humanity.

Check your facts, missy. 23andMe requests a sample of saliva and they don’t sequence customers’ genomes (Knome does that). 23andMe analyzes single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in a person’s genome.

And 23andme is just the beginning. Another company called DeCode offers a similar service called DeCodeMe, and more are sure to follow.

Now here I’m just going to be nitpicky. It should be deCODE and deCODEme with “code” in ALL CAPS. And, yes, more personal genomics companies have followed already.

People are desperate to understand themselves, and so they turn to genetics as if it were a self-help manual instead of a still poorly understood science. While there are many theories about how genetic expression works on our personalities and health, there are few solid facts.

Poorly understood science as opposed to what? String theory? Neurophysiology? Paleontology? And did she say “few solid facts”? Clearly, Annalee needs to read my list of 100 Facts About DNA.

What I see when I look at a site like 23andme is nothing less than the future of eugenics. I don’t mean the scary capital-E eugenics of the 1930s that involved killing Jews and sterilizing “loose women.” I mean wild-type eugenics, the kind of genetic engineering that happens in nature without any dictatorial intervention. It’s the sort of eugenics that results when people of the same races and classes tend to marry each other. It’s the genetic engineering that results when men can choose their mates but women can’t.

If I weren’t so tired, I think I’d bash my laptop screen in. What is “wild-type eugenics”?! Is she talking about evolution? Annalee needs to look up the meaning of “eugenics” in the dictionary.

…they [23andme] do offer users the chance to compare their genomes with those of the general population.

They do? I had no idea that so many people in the “general population” had already had their genomes analyzed! And they were even so thoughtful to have entered their genomes into a database for comparisons. To think I’ve been tracking genetics and the genome revolution for over 15 years and had no idea everyone except me had their genomes sequenced already.

After they sell it to insurance companies — who will use the information to charge higher rates to people with “bad” genes — they’ll sell it back to users in the form of social networks.

Talk about paranoia. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) aims to prevent all this!

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who thinks your genome isn’t worthy of hers.

Niiiice. No wonder she keeps harping on eugenics.

*Yes, I work for DNA Direct!

Photo: Jelly Baby by Mauro Perucchetti representing a cloned human on exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London, UK.

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(9 comments)


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9 Comments

Comment by Judson Subscribed to comments via email

Yes, we all know how much insurance companies want SNP data, it’s so useful… :) But I guess being anti-science and ignorant sells newspapers? Who knows.

Hi Judson! If anti-science and ignorance sell newspapers, then I gotta get me some! haa

 
 
Comment by StevenMurphy MD

Wow Hsien,
You sound like the Sherpa!
-Steve
http://www.helixhealth.org

No one can top you, Dr. Steve Gene Sherpa!

 
 
Comment by Ricardo Vidal

You’d think they’d have someone who understands what they’re writing about approach such a topic.

EyeonDNA ftw!! \o/

Rick, Since when do you have to understand what you write about? Just look at me! ;) hahaa

 
 
Comment by David Hamilton Subscribed to comments via email

Actually, anti-science and paranoia sell fewer newspapers all the time. Of course, just about anything else… also sells fewer newspapers all the time.

I confess to sharing the mainstream media’s bias against overly enthusiastic capitalization schemes in company names. At the WSJ, style dictated that some of the wilder examples be toned down, which is why “deCODE” has always been DeCode there (a habit I haven’t shed). I suspect the SF Bay Guardian is the same way, although I’m sure it would hate the comparison to the mainstream media.

Also, recall that the Bay Guardian is a free, determinedly left-leaning weekly in SF Bay Area, so they operate under different journalistic standards :-) .

David, How sad for newspapers. *sniff* heh

I like me some CAPS whenever they look cool but I’ll give Annalee the benefit of the doubt. She’s still not off the hook for her other nonsense, though.

 
 
Comment by Nil Amber
 

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