DNA as Destiny Essay

4242 Words Nov 13th, 2013 17 Pages
DNA as Destiny

DNA is the book of life. It's also the book of death. In the future we'll all be read cover to cover. Here's what it's like to take the world's first top-to-bottom gene scan.

By David Ewing Duncan

I FEEL NAKED. EXPOSED. As if my skin, bone, muscle tissue, cells have all been peeled back, down to a tidy swirl of DNA. It's the basic stuff of life, the billions of nucleotides that keep me breathing, walking, craving, and just being. Eight hours ago, I gave a few cells, swabbed from inside my cheek, to a team of geneticists. They've spent the day extracting DNA and checking it for dozens of hidden diseases. Eventually, I will be tested for hundreds more. They include, as I will discover, a nucleic time bomb ticking
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What Sequenom and others are working toward is pinning down the probability that, for example, a colon cancer gene will actually trigger a tumor. To know this, Braun must analyze the DNA of thousands of people and tally how many have the colon cancer gene, how many actually get the disease, and how many don't. Once this data is gathered and crunched, Braun will be able to tell you, for instance, that if you have the defective DNA, you have a 40 percent chance, or maybe a 75 percent chance, by age 50, or 90. Environmental factors such as eating right — or wrong — and smoking also weigh in. "It's a little like predicting the weather," says Charles Cantor, the company's cofounder and chief scientific officer.

Braun tells me that, for now, his tests offer only a rough sketch of my genetic future. "We can't yet test for everything, and some of the information is only partially understood," he says. It's more of a peek through a rudimentary eyeglass than a Hubble Space Telescope. Yet I will be able to glimpse some of the internal programming bequeathed to me by evolution, and that I, in turn, have bequeathed to my children — Sander, Danielle, and Alex, ages 15, 13, and 7. They are a part of this story, too. Here's where I squirm, because as a father I pass on not only the ingredients of life to my children but the secret codes of their demise — just as I have passed on my blue eyes and a flip in my left brow that my grandmother called "a little lick from God." DNA is

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