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Blame it on the genes

Posted 06/04/2010 by RoseS

I have never been much good with flat pack furniture. Unlike my sister, who seems to have a fortunate knack for assembling everything from wardrobes to bookcases, the complex sets of diagrammatic instructions have always left me feeling bewildered and rather inadequate. A bit like reading maps without having to reorient them in the direction of travel, I am generally left with little option but to confess my ignorance and hand the job over to a man (admittedly usually) who can.

Now it appears that I have an excuse. New research this month has pinpointed a gene responsible for spatial awareness – the one that my sister apparently inherited and I missed out on. It is, of course, only the latest in a long line of genetic traits that we can blame for our personal failings, with genes for obsessive compulsive disorder (yes, I got that one too), obesity and even singing all the focus of recent news reports.

Since the sequencing of the human genome back in 2004, the numbers of research papers and scientific stories linking different genes to various personality traits or medical disorders has seemingly exploded. Some of this new-found knowledge – the linking of the BRCA1 and 2 genes and breast cancer, for example – has admittedly delivered major improvements, both in terms of our understanding and treatment of diseases, while even more impressive results are expected from new more effective haplotype maps linking entire groups or families of genes to more complex traits and disorders.

But along with all of this valuable information there is also an awful lot less profound or even particularly reliable data – none of which appears to have prevented some personalised genetics companies starting to peddle us scientific screening kits aimed at revealing multiple problem traits; a market that surely looks set to grow even bigger with the advent of new $1000 genome testing kits soon to enter the marketplace (C&I 2009, 19, 14).

If we believe all the marketing hype, there appears to be a gene from everything from food allergy to acne – and a cure for almost all of them to match. Personally, I am not sure that I really want to know. True, it may be a convenient way to explain all our individual failings. But ultimately, doesn’t all of this consign us to mere biochemical robots – an excuse for everyone to side-step any personal culpability for anything? For myself, I prefer to blame the parents.

Cath O’Driscoll – Deputy Editor

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  • Anonymous said:
    15/10/2013 08:22

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  • Anonymous said:
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