Our DNA keeps telling us more and more about ourselves
In the 1983 movie Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd, there’s a great scene in which the characters played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche get into a discussion about the age old question of what influences an individual more: heredity or environment. The two men decide to conduct an experiment using Murphy’s and Akroyd’s characters and the plot is set.
Even though this film was made only a quarter century ago, the contention of the debate seems a bit archaic in light of the exponential understanding we now have in regards to genetics. There was a time when suggestions that a person acted the way that they did because of their ancestry would be laughed at as “old wives’ tales”. Yet now we know better. Researchers keep isolating genes regulating all sorts of things from our health to our intelligence to our psychological state on an almost weekly basis. Our genes seem to be our lives as an open book.
Our genetic makeup is now even being marketed for our love lives. A company called GenePartner wants to match potential couples together according to how complementary their genetic makeup is with one another. This Swiss firm wants to:
evaluate singles and couples according to the potential union of their HLA genes, which help regulate immune response.
People may naturally be attracted to mates with HLA profiles different from their own, ostensibly guaranteeing the hybrid vigor of their offspring’s immune systems — and also providing a spark that will last through good times and bad.
“Proper age, similar life goals and ideas, education levels — all of these things have to fit. And on top of that, you need to be biologically compatible,” said Tamara Brown, managing director of GenePartner.
Some skeptics do abound, but it seems that we humans are wired to seek out those most similar to us genetically (with glaring exceptions such as Heidi Klum and Seal).
Genetic testing has also gotten cheaper. No longer will a test cost the proverbial arm and a leg as the company 23andme is putting out a genetic tester that’s retailing for $399.00. On this new product:
Personalized genomics just got a lot more accessible. Until tonight, the cheapest genome scan was available for just under a thousand dollars. Thanks to improvements in microarray technology, 23andMe has been able to cut that cost by more than half — to $399 — well within the reach of cash-strapped grad students, frugal genealogy buffs and other not-so-early adopters.
“By taking advantage of continuing innovation we are able to introduce a new chip that will give people more relevant data at a lower price,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe. ”We are excited that we are opening doors for more people to learn about their health and ancestry and for more people to be able to participate in advancing research. It is important to democratize personal genetics and make it more accessible.”
The cynic in me suggests that it’s only a matter of time before genetic testing becomes a cultural custom in the dating world :)
DNA is also finding other uses these days. Stephen Colbert’s DNA is being sent to outer space:
Stephen Colbert will soon be doom-proof. As of October, no plague, nor global-warming disaster, nor Earth-ending asteroid can wipe away the comedian’s existence. His DNA will journey to the International Space Station next month as part of a human-race insurance program/video-game marketing scheme.
Richard Garriott, the man behind the influential Ultima game series, will deliver an “Immortality Drive” to the station with images of humanity’s greatest accomplishments – as voted on by the public – and the digitized genes of celebrities and some run-of-the-mill gamers.
“I am thrilled to have my DNA shot into space, as this brings me one step closer to my lifelong dream of being the baby at the end of 2001,” Colbert said in a statement, referring to the 1968 landmark science fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”