Thursday, February 23, 2012

Halfway to Traumatized!

To poorly quote our professor as she was giving our class the 'please don't sue me, the school or 23andme' speech; "clicking the agree button means you are ready and willing to be traumatized." Afterwards, she explained the multiple ways we could be traumatized including but not excluded to, disease risk, carrier traits, and the big one: realizing your Dad did not actually father you. Ouch. She proceeded to give out the codes to receive a DNA kit from 23andme.

Lucky for me, I am one hundred percent positive my dad actually is my father and I generally know which diseases I'm at risk for. Those are things my parents have never really kept from me. Not to mention, we had the option to opt out and use a "Jane/John Doe" DNA sample if we did not think we could handle it. Or choose to not see the disease risk portion of our genome. Being the brave, risk-taking young adult that I am, I clicked that agree button. Bring on the trauma!

I had my kit sent to my parents house so school wouldn't question me spitting into a tube then putting it back into the box and sending it the mail. My kit arrived at my house on Tuesday night, but I couldn't get home until Wednesday. Oh boy, was my dad curious. He even had my mom email me to make sure I had really ordered it. I tried to explain that it was completely noninvasive and he would not have to see anything if he didn't want to. Not to mention, no one would see my results but me. He did not really get on board until he saw the website, which showed him all the cool things. Including where my ancestors could been possibly from. Which means, we can finally figure out just how Italian I am. Dad would like me to be more Italian than Irish from my mom's side.

Now that I am completely off topic. From what I know, all of the class has either signed up for the Jane/John Doe account or sent in their spit to be analyzed. So here we are, halfway to traumatized, waiting for our results. In the mean time, we'll try to think of something interesting to post here. I promise!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

One Cup Adenine, Two Teaspoons Guanine

The idea of getting my DNA genotyped intensely reminds me of the 1997 movie Gattaca. The movie, staring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law takes place in a futuristic society that genetically "builds" children from conception. This concept of "building children" instead of conceiving them naturally allows for the parents to choose not only the gender of the child, but the child's hair or eye color, athletic and academic ability and body type. In addition, the parents can choose to avoid possible negative traits such as premature balding, alcoholism or addiction and inheritable diseases. In the movie, the main character Vincent Anton Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is conceived naturally as we do now. Vincent ends up being born with a heart condition and therefore deemed an "invalid" or "imperfect." he eventually ends up taking on the DNA genome of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) in order to get a job as a space navigator in the astronaut training and rocket launch center: Gattaca.

Just so I don't give too much of the movie away: the basic idea of that society is to use the DNA not only as an identification method but as a measure of likeliness to succeed. I think that is what scares people the most about genotyping or sequencing, that one day it will be more of a force for discrimination than something that can help people avoid disease.

For me, it is simple to see both sides of the argument. When I'm honest with myself, it's a bit nerve racking to this of possible outcomes of being genotyped. Coming from a family with Type II Diabetes, cancers, high blood pressure and a slew of other health issues; it is easy to get nervous. Especially if I were to go public with my results like they do in Gattaca. Should my results be negative, would I be seen as attractive? Would it cause me to be a high risk employee? Would I even be hired? On the other hand if everyone was so open with their genome then it could allow for less disease and more healthy it worth the risk of discrimination? Should we genetically "build" our children? Or should be just leave it to the movies?

Maybe I should just wear colored contacts...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mommy, Look What I Made!

I guess I lied about what would be my next update (though I am working on it), but I thought some of you might be interested in a new contender for earliest known painting found in Spain.

Thought part of what makes you human was an artistic capacity? Well, the project leader for this expedition is pretty sure these were drawn by an individual of a species called homo neanderthalensis (maybe you've heard of it), around 10,000 years before the formerly oldest known. This is actually kind of a big deal, because, as the article says:

We thought art history was exclusive to evolved humans, that our sensibility was "an intimate part of ourselves, the sapiens, because we think we are the thinkers." This discovery, if confirmed with further testing, proves this sapiens-centric idea wrong.

You should all go check it out and probably resist the urge to debate whether or not it's "art," though I know it's tempting.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hello, My Name Is Ryan, and I Have DNA

Welcome all to the University of Rhode Island's APG 350 "Human Variation" outreach experiment! I, Ryan, shall be your Guru for this evening, and probably most evenings, at least in this tiny section of the internet we are building up. It should be interesting to see what becomes of this.

The posts which will follow this one will come from many authors from many backgrounds, focusing (however loosely) on the biological anthropological questions of "What makes me human?" and "What makes me me?" These questions should have meaning to everyone since, odds are, if you are reading this right now you are probably a) human and b) you. I suspect our contributing Human Variants (or as I've started saying in my head, DNAnonymoi) will reveal that there are many different ways to approach and answer this questions, as well as a number of places those answers can lead us. For example, as someone interested in philosophical questions regarding identity and the self, some of the following related questions stand out to me:

When we say "me," do we mean our self, our identity, or some combination of the two? Are they even separate? What aspects of those are permanent, and which ones mutable?

Does answering questions about the biological concept of a human tell us anything about the moral concept of personhood? (Hint: is-ought)

Is the biological anthropological approach to these questions sufficient to give us a meaningful answer to them?

As we move on, I also expect many opinions around DNA profiling to result as some of us see our genes laid out and translated for us. Maybe some of those things have been thought of already, and someone has probably already thought of something that would never occur to me in my entire lifetime.

Expect another post from me soon about what may happen when genetics becomes more and more central to our conception of ourselves, but for now I'll leave off with this video. I think it is appropriate, as the title addresses the question of whether or not our central two questions are meaningful to ask in the first place.

Until then!