We are not ready for the impending genetic revolution

When 15 years ago, scientists mapped the genetic information of humans (the genome), they promised to change the world. Optimists expect the era in which disappear all genetic diseases. Pessimists feared the spread of genetic discrimination. And those and others were wrong. The reason is simple: our genome is very complex. The ability to find specific differences in the genome — only a small part of understanding how to actually work in genetic variation, giving rise to all these traits that we see. Unfortunately, few understand how complex genetics. And as more products and services are starting to use genetic data, there is a danger that this lack of understanding makes people make very bad decisions.

In school we were taught that brown eyes determines the dominant gene and blue is recessive. In reality, are no human traits that are passed from generation to generation so directly. Most traits, including eye color, develop under the influence of several genes, each of which makes a small contribution.

Moreover, each gene contributes to a variety of features — this concept is called pleiotropy. For example, genetic variants associated with autism have also been associated with schizophrenia. When gene refers to a single symptom in a positive way (for example, produces a healthy heart) and the other as negative (increasing the risk of macular degeneration in the eyes), this is called antagonistic pleiotropy.

With increasing computing power, scientists were able to identify many individual molecular differences in the DNA with specific human characteristics, including behavioral traits, such as love of learning and psychopathy. Each of these genetic variants explains only a small variation in the population. But when all these options are added, they explain more and more differences that we see between people. And with the lack of genetic knowledge many things are not clear.

For example, we could sequence the DNA of a newborn baby, figure it polygenic indicator for achieving performance and use it to predict with some degree of accuracy how well it will do well in school. Genetic information may be the most powerful and precise forecaster of strengths and weaknesses of the child. The use of genetic data would allow us to more effectively personalize education and target resources to children who need it most.

But this will work only if parents, teachers, and secondly will be enough to understand genetics to correctly use this information. Genetic effects can be prevented or improved by changing the human environment, including providing him with the opportunity and choice in education. There is also a view that certain genetic indicators can lead to a system in which children will be permanently divided into classes according to their DNA and do not receive adequate support for their power.

Improved medical knowledge

In a medical context, people often follow the advice on the topic of genetics obtained from a doctor or other professional. But even with this support, people with good genetic knowledge, will derive more benefit and will be able to make more informed decisions about their own health, family planning and the health of relatives. People are already confused by the proposal to undertake expensive genetic testing and cancer treatment based on genetic information. Understanding genetics would help them to avoid treatment that isn’t necessary in their individual case.

Today a human genome can be edited directly using CRISPR. Despite the fact that such methods of genetic modifications are heavily regulated, the relative simplicity of the CRISPR means that biohacker already took this tool into service, and edit their own genomes, for example, to gain muscle or treatment of HIV.

Such services bohaterow are likely to be increasingly accessible and increasingly offered (even illegal). But, as we found out, learning about pleiotropy, changing one gene in a positive way can have disastrous unintended consequences. Even a small understanding of all this could save the future of biohackers from costly or perhaps even a fatal error.

We are becoming more vulnerable to potential genetic misinformation, because we have professionals with whom you can consult. For example, Marmite, a British company that produces food spreads, has recently launched an advertising campaign offering to carry out a genetic test, allowing to understand, you love Marmite or hate it, just 89 pounds. Despite the wit and fun of the campaign itself, it has a few problems.

First, the preference of pies, Marmite, like any other complex trait, determined by a complex interaction of genes and environment, rather than given at birth. In the best case, such a test will tell you whether you have a penchant for the products of such a plan, and it will be very inaccurate. Second, in an advertising campaign showing a young man who “recognized” the father in that he likes Marmite. This obvious analogy to sexual orientation may strengthen an outdated and dangerous concept of “gay genes” or even the idea that there can be any one gene for complex traits.

Knowledge is the best tool for the genetic revolution. You need to be prepared.

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