In the coming era of consumer genetics, your DNA will have much to tell you about the biological bases of your health, your physique and even your personality. But will this knowledge really amount to self-knowledge? asks Steven Pinker in his article My Genome, My Self, which appeared in the January 11, 2009 issue of the Sunday New York Times.
We've entered the age of personal genomics — where Pinker says "the plunging cost
of genome sequencing — will soon give people an unprecedented
opportunity to contemplate their own biological and even psychological
makeups". For example, 23andMe provides
a genetic report card and directs customers to a web page which
displays risk factors for 14 diseases
and 10 traits. This page also provides links additional diseases and
traits which according to Pinker, have iffier scientific substantiation.
This latest "do it yourself genomics" trend coincides with the new promise of personalized medicine – where drugs are being tailored to an individual's genetic makeup. The downside to this trend ranges from dubious companies which prey on hypochondriacs, to insurance and ethical isues.
For now, the jury is out on the benefits of personal genomics. I like Pinker's concluding thoughts:
in probabilities, by all means enjoy the fruits of personal genomics.
But if you want to know whether you are at risk for high cholesterol, have your cholesterol measured; if you want to know whether you are good at math, take a math test.
The Internet is accelerating biomedical progress in understanding and treating disease. Personally, I believe in the potential of services like 23andme — it empowers individuals to take control of their medical destinies and enables them to create virtual cohorts for clinical research and trials. With tools like these, personalized medicine will evolve even faster.