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Thread: My Genome, My Self

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    The Wheel is Forever silentstriker's Avatar
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    My Genome, My Self

    An interesting article written by one of my favorite authors: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/ma...me-t.html?_r=2

    It's about personal genomics (ability to get a part or whole of your genome sequenced) and what it means.
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    Cricket Web: All-Time Legend Uppercut's Avatar
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    Out of interest SS, do you go on science forums and spam them with threads about cricket?
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    Cricketer Of The Year James90's Avatar
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    I don't read any of these tbh.
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    The Wheel is Forever silentstriker's Avatar
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    International 12th Man David's Avatar
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    If it's any conciliation, I appreciate SS's threads.
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    Cricket Web: All-Time Legend Uppercut's Avatar
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    I do read them actually. Was just having a quick jest.

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    The Wheel is Forever silentstriker's Avatar
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    Haha, I know it probably doesn't have a wide audience, but I like to post what I find interesting, and hopefully a few others do too. This is a piece from the New York Times, hardly some techno-babble in a random peer reviewed journal. Thought it might interest some people, as this technology is now usable by anyone willing to pay a couple hundred bucks.

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    Cricketer Of The Year James90's Avatar
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    Yeah, na, look. Don't have a problem with it at all. You're allowed to post whatever you want and if it gets the discussion you want that's great, even if it is to a narrow audience.

    Just thought Uppercut's remark was amusing.

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    Hall of Fame Member Sanz's Avatar
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    I wish I had the intellect and brains to read and understand something like that. I find Science a very boring subject mainly because of my own inability to understand simple things and hence is not my cup of tea.

    That said, have lot of respect for those who are in the field of science.

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    The Wheel is Forever silentstriker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sanz View Post
    I wish I had the intellect and brains to read and understand something like that. I find Science a very boring subject mainly because of my own inability to understand simple things and hence is not my cup of tea.

    That said, have lot of respect for those who are in the field of science.
    Sanz, this article is very readable, designed for a mass audience. I think you'll be fine with it, it's not technical. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer. Most times understanding science doesn't require large amount of knowledge, just a few definitions of technical words, and maybe a background concept or two. Same thing happened with LHC, where the principles are exceedingly simple yet no one can understand it due to the vocabulary. It's not a big deal and anyone can pick it up in a few minutes, especially articles like these, which are designed for a mass audience.

    I don't think most of science has anything to do with intellect or brains, especially if you just want to understand it. People make it out to be more complicated than it tends to be, or needs to be.

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    International Captain cover drive man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by silentstriker View Post
    Sanz, this article is very readable, designed for a mass audience. I think you'll be fine with it, it's not technical. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer. Most times understanding science doesn't require large amount of knowledge, just a few definitions of technical words, and maybe a background concept or two. Same thing happened with LHC, where the principles are exceedingly simple yet no one can understand it due to the vocabulary. It's not a big deal and anyone can pick it up in a few minutes, especially articles like these, which are designed for a mass audience.

    I don't think most of science has anything to do with intellect or brains, especially if you just want to understand it. People make it out to be more complicated than it tends to be, or needs to be.
    yeah agree.
    Everyone wants to change the world, noone wants to change himself.

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    Hall of Fame Member Sanz's Avatar
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    @SS - I tried to read the article, almost gave up but again continued because I wanted to read up. I wish it was shorter and written for common people to understand. Anyways, as I read through pages, I wondered about the use of PGP, so what I know my genetic history, sequence or whatever the right term is, what next and how can that information be used for anything constructive (other than 'too much fun' as the writer puts it).

    And when I was at the last page, wondering about the futility of the whole project, I read the last paragraph of the article. That last para just sums up my exact feeling :-

    "..........So if you are bitten by scientific or personal curiosity and can think in probabilities, by all means enjoy the fruits of personal genomics. But if you want to know whether you are at risk for high choletrol, have your cholesterol measured; if you want to know whether you are good at math, take a math test. And if you really want to know yourself (and this will be the test of how much you do), consider the suggestion of François La Rochefoucauld: “Our enemies’ opinion of us comes closer to the truth than our own.”

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    The Wheel is Forever silentstriker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sanz View Post
    @SS - I tried to read the article, almost gave up but again continued because I wanted to read up. I wish it was shorter and written for common people to understand. Anyways, as I read through pages, I wondered about the use of PGP, so what I know my genetic history, sequence or whatever the right term is, what next and how can that information be used for anything constructive (other than 'too much fun' as the writer puts it
    Well, in terms of the technology, I can summarize:

    As most people know, your genetic information is contained in a strand of DNA. DNA is made up of four bases (A=adenine, C=cytosine, T=thymine, G=guanine). The vast majority of DNA is the same from person to person, and even between species, like a chimpanzee. Heck, probably 50-60% of your DNA is the same as a banana. This is because the vast majority of your genes code for basic functions that all organisms (plants or animals), such as making protein x for synthesis of a chemical that helps your cell use oxygen.

    The DNA is contained in every cell of your body. DNA codes for another nucleotide called RNA, and RNA then codes for various proteins. Proteins are what do 'stuff' in your body, and give you various features. However, most of your DNA is 'junk', and doesn't code for proteins (it's not all actually junk, it does other things, but for our purposes it is).

    A 'gene' is basically a section of DNA that codes for a protein. So you may have a gene that is 'ACATGATACCTC' which codes for protein X, which allows your bones to grow better and thus maybe you are slightly taller (it's a little more complex, but generally that's it).

    So basically, the whole field of personal genomics is to find all the various genes for different attributes, and allow you to know what they do. You can use it for fun stuff, like:

    1. Personal History: You can compare your genome to others and you can run analysis to see where you came from. So you can see if you have a mixture of genes from Africa and Europe, or India and the Middle east.
    2. Check your attributes: You may have a gene that may predispose you to be a little shy compared to usual, or it might be fun to find out that you have a gene that only 1% of the population has which lets you see better in the dark, or something.


    But you can also use it for serious stuff, for example, in medicine, if we find a gene that would make you more responsive for a specific cancer treatment. We could then target treatment to something that would work specifically for your body, rather than the generalized drugs you get now. In terms of prevention, you could also check to see if you have a gene that makes you more likely to get prostate cancer, or diabetes, so you can take steps to prevent it, or at least get checkups more regularly for those conditions, and if it happens, you can catch it early and increase your chances of doing well. So it would be an asbolutely huge leap if it were available on a personal scale. $399 already is not very expensive compared to most medical treatments, and if you are spending $20,000 on cancer drugs, $399 to make them 2x as effective is nothing. You can also use it if you are planning to have children. Let's say you have a gene that gives your child 50% chance of developing a fatal condition. If you could test for it, you can screen the zygotes out which have the condition.

    Of course, some of this is theoretical, as we don't know what most genes do. But part of the genome project is to take the genes of a lot of people, thousands, and compare and contrast everyone's genes to figure out what those genes do. Once we have a good idea of what those genes do, we can then develop steps to try to correct it. There are serious medical and societal advantages to this, but of course, I don't doubt that eventually you'd be able to do things like select genes, or at least, weed out genes that you like or not like.

    What the author tries to say that even if we could know functions of a lot of genes, it may not mean anything for a lot of conditions, since it is not one gene, but perhaps tens or even hundreds that decide a specific attribute. For example, if you want to be tall, it's not one gene that decides it, but hundreds. So even with this , everything won't be possible, and you won't necessarily be able to completely guess what the person is just by reading a chart of their genome.

    On the other hand, there are certain conditions, as he mentions which are like on/off switches. For example, you can tell, with pretty much 100% certainty whether a person will develop Huntington's Disease just by looking at their genome. So some things are deterministic by a single gene, but most aren't. That doesn't mean it's futile though. I may not be able to map out my personality by looking at a genome, but I might be able to see which cancers I am likely to get, and which anti-cancer drugs might work for me, what I am resistant to, or make sure my kids are healthy and don't inherit any genetic problems form me, or to make sure they have the genes that makes them resistant to HIV, or prostate cancer, or even male pattern baldness. And that's pretty damn good.

    I hope that cleared it up slightly.
    Last edited by silentstriker; 14-01-2009 at 10:12 AM.

  14. #14
    Hall of Fame Member Sanz's Avatar
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    SS, Thanks for the technical Information, It certainly helps esp since it has been 20 years when I last studied anything about DNA/RNA stuff.

    Anyways, I am, leaving aside the information for 'personal history' part because I don't think this sort of research should be used for personal information (and others may disagree with my view) because I fear that in that case money used for this research eventually end up being commercialized and become another form of business, a business that will eventually start selling your genetic information and finally end up help creating more and more discrimination in the society.

    That said I would like to argue about other advantages/points that you mentioned in separate posts.

    Hopefully I am not putting you on spot.

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    Hall of Fame Member Sanz's Avatar
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    But you can also use it for serious stuff, for example, in medicine, if we find a gene that would make you more responsive for a specific cancer treatment. We could then target treatment to something that would work specifically for your body, rather than the generalized drugs you get now. In terms of prevention, you could also check to see if you have a gene that makes you more likely to get prostate cancer, or diabetes, so you can take steps to prevent it, or at least get checkups more regularly for those conditions, and if it happens, you can catch it early and increase your chances of doing well. So it would be an asbolutely huge leap if it were available on a personal scale. $399 already is not very expensive compared to most medical treatments, and if you are spending $20,000 on cancer drugs, $399 to make them 2x as effective is nothing. You can also use it if you are planning to have children. Let's say you have a gene that gives your child 50% chance of developing a fatal condition. If you could test for it, you can screen the zygotes out which have the condition.
    First of all the above I think contradicts the following

    What the author tries to say that even if we could know functions of a lot of genes, it may not mean anything for a lot of conditions, since it is not one gene, but perhaps tens or even hundreds that decide a specific attribute. For example, if you want to be tall, it's not one gene that decides it, but hundreds. So even with this , everything won't be possible, and you won't necessarily be able to completely guess what the person is just by reading a chart of their genome.
    And I read the same contradiction in the quoted article as well and one of my major concerns was if the outcome of this research is to be used for any type medical treatment. In that case

    a. What happens when one has a gene that (according to the research) has 50% chance of developing/causing a fatal condition but the individual doesn't fall in that 50% ?

    b. This is more specific to US where a no. of people go through medical under-writing before they are approved for Health Insurance, What happens if that information is available to the Health Insurance companies which causes them to either deny your health coverage or increase the cost so much that it becomes unaffordable (heck it already is for common public).

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