Just a quick post for the start of the year. At the end of 2012, I participated in both the National Geographic Genographics projects (https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com) and signed up for 23andMe.com (https://www.23andme.com). Both of these programs test your DNA to trace your long term genealogy (National Geographic) and participate on health related research to see if your DNA contains markers for known illness and promote future research (23andMe). In conversations with my wife and family (both her side and mine), I found many different perspectives on this topic. I suspect that there’s likely some spiritual issues underlying the different view points.
To me, it’s interesting to know where I came from. I have a unique mix of backgrounds in my blood (North Africa – a land ravaged by many invaders, Dutch – historically tradesmen and travelers, Native American – rumored & ravaged by Europeans), so it will be quite interesting to see what National Geographic tells me about my ancestry and my path. At the very least, it will possibly tell me about any of the Native American blood that I may have.
The 23andMe program is interesting in different ways. About 11 years ago, I had my gall bladder removed. I was in my late 20s at the time, and had severe stomach cramping issues for the better part of my 20s. Every diagnosis was tied back to my diet (not good as a student or startup entrepreneur) and the degree of stress in my life (also not good as a design student or startup entrepreneur). All doctors suggested that I just mellow out, and deal with the stress part. While that was true, the doctors overlooked the fact (which I didn’t know myself) that both of my parents had their gall bladder removed in the mid 30s. They never asked me the question, because the probability of gall bladder issues in a 20-something was extremely low. Interestingly enough, there is a higher likelihood to have gall bladder issues if your parents had gall bladder issues, and I was told (by a doctor at a later time) that gall bladder issues in 20-somethings are on the rise (tied to stress, drinking, and diet). More recently I had a severe case of viral meningitis (the good kind of meningitis – if there is such a thing). The case was so bad that I had been hospitalized three times, and was run the longest battery of test imaginable at MGH (a world class leader in these types of illnesses). They could never diagnose what it was with any certainty. Knowing this, I’ve also wanted to know “what else”. Could I prone to any of the known diseases? Are there things that I could do today to help age peacefully?
In the various conversations that I’ve head since taking the tests (results are still being processed), it dawned on me that not everyone is as open as I am, but also that I had I am sharing a ton of information. Generally speaking some people felt knowing so much about their own DNA could give them information that they would not know how to process (so what if you find out that you’re likely to get Alzheimer’s?), others felt that having this information would not lead to anything concrete in their diet and habits (so what if I’m likely to get a heart attack? I’ll still eat my burger rare.) I respect both of those opinions and also recognize that sharing this information with an organization such as either of the ones that I did creates a potential data privacy risk (could we have a future where employer screening starts with a check of your DNA? – ok that’s paranoid; what if someone breaks into their data warehouse?).
In any case, to me, I feel it’s important to know. Just so that, well… I KNOW. It will be interesting, to see what my (long term) ancestry is, and what disease factors are. I’ll share more knowledge as it comes online.