Monday, 1 June 2015

Be careful of what you pay for.......

Unlocking the genome- but don't hold your breath

The new meds are certainly kicking in and I feel incipient madness slipping away..... According to my wife and mistress, (please don't tell Mrs S- luckily she does not read my nonsense) I've been getting worse of late. So relative sanity is a welcome change. Of course, it is all down to compliance. I might stop taking the blue pills, just because I can. Haven't made my mind up about the pink ones, yet. As promised here is a very sensible post. Not a mention of Mugumbo, or profanity, at all. But I do get the occasional 'ferret' interspersed in the text for no reason at all- baby steps.

It seems everyone is interested in genetics these days. With the unlocking of the genome, there is a wealth of knowledge worthy of plunder. And if there is a buck to be made you can bet there is a corporation just ready to meet your needs, at a price.

Anyone can obtain a genetic profile. Scrape your cheek and put in a pot and send it off for genetic analysis. The cost is about a thousand dollars. So what do you get for your hard earned gelt? A genetic profile which tells a story? The information contained therein is intricate and not easily unravelled. If you expect to be told your genetic heritage or future, then think again. Sadly, the technology is widely available and will produce a wealth of data. But the devil is in the interpretation. And this is where the real problem lies. When confronted with a vast amount of data/cash, any commercial company will give you an answer. This does not mean the answer is correct or relevant. Snake oil in a different format.

I work as a geneticist and analyse genetic profiles every day. Because I work in a clinical and diagnostic setting I have to be circumspect with my interpretation. I am driven by the available data in the published literature. My report is always consistent with known knowledge. Send your sample to a commercial company and a genetic profile becomes manifest. To sift through  genetic variation takes time and frankly commercial enterprises don't have the inclination or motivation to invest in this endeavour. They will, no doubt, come up with a grand report, but to be honest it will mean nothing.

To be told your susceptibility to disease and cancer pleases no one, especially as the interpretation is likely to be incorrect. Go tell it to your insurance broker ferret. Genetic information is incredibly complex to disassemble. I should know, it's my job. If anything, I have learned that genetic systems are wonderfully intricate. They defy simple analysis. To think otherwise is an exercise in futility and madness. The interplay and subtle interaction of our genes is beyond the understanding of man. Complex algorithms may one day be employed to unravel and provide an 'understanding', although I can't help but feel it will fall short. If I have learned anything, is that nothing is as it seems and all is irreducibly and incredibly abstruse! Except ferrets, ferrets are endearingly and maddenly (this may not be a real word- in fact, it is not, I tried to look it up), simple and complex. Flaxen, keep taking the blue pills!                 


  1. I have a slight interest in genetics, although I know nothing about aforementioned, here is what I think I know about this fascinating and complex subject.
    My family seems to have quite good genetics on my mum's side, lots of old people with no senility strong mental faculties and very little in the way of alcoholism or drug abuse, no heart issues and not much in the way of rheumatism, but a little emphysema caused by my grandfather's very responsible job at ICI ....
    Sadly I take after my father's side of the family, strokes, cancer, heart issues an alcoholism and obesity abound . I have thus far managed to avoid the alcoholism but who knows about the rest. I await with anticipation the out come over my declining years.

  2. Health is more down to genetics than the health establishment let on- and they know it. Good genetics defies 'bad living' any day. Interestingly, a study looking at the lifestyles of the poor sods who live to be over a 100, found that their habits were no different to anyone else. They were not health fanatics or lived any 'better' than the rest of us- just genetically favoured (or perhaps, just lucky!).