Genetic Inherited Trait Mapping – Would You Want to Know?

Photo: Horia Varlan

Here’s a common quandary for you – if you could know exactly when you are going to die, would you want to find out?  For me the answer is pretty easy – no way Jose!  I don’t want to live my life neurotically counting down to my death.  But what if you draw the line a little farther back?  What if you could know the likelihood that you will have a certain disease in your lifetime?  Or even the trivial: would you like to be told some of your insignificant traits that you may otherwise never even know?

Is this even in the realm of possibility?
If you recall from the pea pod example in junior high, each gene is made up of two alleles – with each allele either being dominant or recessive. To show the recessive trait both alleles must be recessive.  But for humans it is rarely this simple.  These genes combine in incredibly complex ways to make you who you are – most characteristics are determined by more than one gene.  Even though it is incredibly complex, I think it just a matter of time until every conceivable human trait is identified – it should be possible with enough data and large enough computers crunching the numbers. (geek tangent)

Affecting your lifestyle
What would I like to know?  Areas where I could potentially take action to prevent a calamity before it strikes, rather than just worrying for worrying’s sake.  The obvious example are lifestyle diseases such as lung cancer, skin cancer, heart disease, and stroke.  Am I in the top 1% of the population for genetic risk of heart disease?  If so you better believe I would be extra careful to watch what I eat and make sure I exercise.

But there are other areas I could actively avoid if I had more information about myself.  What am I allergic to?  It is painful and sometimes dangerous to learn naturally in life that you are allergic to peanuts, milk, or bee stings.  Or is that a little joy of life?  How about if my lungs are extra sensitive to air pollution?  Do I have trouble producing a certain hormone or produce too much of it?

But here is where I would draw the line: what if you could know which diseases you and your spouse are both carriers for?  Would it stop you from having a child because there is a 25% chance she would be born with Huntington’s disease?  Autism?  How about diabetes?  Where do you draw the line – would you sit down and weight the severity of the disease versus the likelihood?  My vote is to not find out in the first place.

The Inconsequential
What kind of stuff would be interesting to know?  Cases where it really doesn’t matter the outcome.  This category is not something that will change your life – in fact, some of them you could go your entire life without finding out!

Am I one of the 22% that can smell asparagus pee?  One of the 7% of males that are red-green color blind?  One of the 30% that can’t taste the bitterness of broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts (PTC)?

Bad news on any of these 3 questions will certainly not floor me or really change how I live my life.  It’s just something cool to know!  I’m all for learning more about myself.  The other school of thought is that these little discoveries are what life is all about – take out the surprises, no matter how small, and it would make life that much more boring.

What do you think?  Are there any other inherited traits that would be fun to know?

Geek tangent:

Believe it or not, you can represent the 3 billion DNA base pairs a humans in only 770 megabytes (each pair can be represented by two bits – 00, 10, 01, or 11).  The Human Genome Project is already doing something similar to this – I don’t understand what exactly they are trying to accomplish, but I think if they collected enough data they could find useful patterns.  The downside is it would take 270,000 terabytes of storage just to store the information for every American – even Google doesn’t have this much space (despite offering multiple gigs to each Gmail user – although they are incredibly secretive about it so no one really knows just how much storage they have).  BUT … 99.9% of the DNA pairs are identical in all humans.  So theoretically you would only need 270 terabytes of storage to store the relevant information – this can be purchased for as little as $16,000.  (Of course the computer connecting all of those drives is not something you can pick up at Fry’s, but the point is, this is in the realm of possibility.)

3 thoughts on “Genetic Inherited Trait Mapping – Would You Want to Know?

  1. jessem says:

    First… Geek tangent totally rules and so does google.
    Second… If they could do an analysis of you and your potential spouse (ie girlfriend) and give you estimates of how your kids would turn out, would you do that? I probably wouldn’t believe them even if I did do it because my kid is going to be so much faster than they would say.
    Third… I wanna know why i can’t grow facial hair and my dad has a mane.

    • Skinner says:

      I really like the geek tangent idea. I sometimes have some really dorky things I want to say that I think no one else wants to here. If they don’t, oh well, I warned them.

      That’s an interesting idea – you could take your parents DNA, compare it to yours, and analyze the likelihood that you received each trait the way you did!

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