How to optimize your life with your own genetic information
Is biology a destiny? In a way, yes. Is it a destiny you can manage? Again, in a way, yes. One way to learn how your genes are programmed is to rub the inside of you cheek using a peculiar sort of a cotton bud. You pack it, send it back to a lab and wait for the results which are then delivered to you on the internet. As simple as that.
The company behind it is VitaGenum. Founded by two scientists from Lublin, Adam Kuzdraliński and Tomasz Czernecki, the company allows you to take a look at your genetic makeup.
De-coding the genome
That wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the success of the Human Genome Project. It was a scientific research project which aimed at determining the sequence of 3.2 billion letters which make up the human genome. It began in 1990 after the US Department of Energy and the National Institute of Health declared their willingness to finance it. The results were published thirteen years later.
The project cost USD 2.7 bn. By now the figure has fallen below USD 1,000 per one analysis. It probably still isn’t the price most of us would be willing to pay anytime soon, but technology advances quickly and trickles down.
VitaGenum meanwhile offers you a more affordable option – instead of sequencing the entire genome, you can sequence just a few genes so as to extract specific information. On offer are genes associated with athletic performance (ACTN3) or obesity (FTO), genes which determine how easy is it for you to lose and gain weight (TFAP2B), genes responsible for regulating the level of dopamine (COMT), and even genes which code information about baldness or acne. The service would cost you about PLN 500 to over PLN 1000 (USD 130 - USD 260).
A tailored diet
VitaGenum is mostly focused on nurtigenetics - a field of study which examines the relations between your individual genetic profile and nutrition. Nutrigenetics analyzes individual differences at the level of your DNA and their influence on the way your organism responds to a diet. It marks a major shift in thinking about nourishment and health as such. According to Tomasz Czernecki, with the advent of nutrigenetics, it no longer suffices to say avocado is healthy. Instead, you consider how healthy it is for you. In other words, instead of recommendations which are supposed to be true to everyone, we turn to personalized ones. It is important especially now that even those truths are hard to come by. You thought avocado is healthy? Check another website and think again.
But what makes nutrigenetics so sure that avocado is not necessarily healthy for everyone? Look around. You have probably had a chance to see two people who seem to have pretty similar weight, who eat similar stuff and who exercise the same way, yet they react fairly different to the very same diet. This is what Czernecki, as a dietician, saw during this routine consultations. He then came to a conclusion that what accounts for those differences are genetic polymorphisms. It simply means that those differences result from the fact that our DNA makes us digest nutrients in a peculiar way.
That is where the idea to launch a business came from - the goal was to create a method of marking polymorphisms and empower people with the knowledge derived from them.
Ok, but what makes the information from your mucous membrane actionable? Having performed the test, specific markers are selected for further analysis. Once you know that due to a flawed enzyme or a malfunctioning protein you are likely to fall ill, you can refrain from actions which may trigger those unfavorable genetic conditions. It is a remarkable breakthrough in regard to health management. Knowing what is coded in your gene, you can adjust your lifestyle accordingly, and thereby, you can do your best to avoid diseases and minimize the chances that adverse genes would ever manifest themselves.
Success inscribed in your DNA
With genetic insights you can optimize not only your diet but you can also unlock the potential lying dormant in your genes and make use of the talents you haven’t been even aware of.
Indeed, talents are also coded in your genes. Nature differentiates us even in this case - the genetic variants - such as those associated with sexual and aggressive behaviors, stress, anxiety, recognition and bonding (OXTR), memory (WWC1), motivation to exercise (BDNF), creativity, sensibility and pain tolerance (PPARGC1A) - they also suggest necessary steps to take if you want to live in sync with your genes.
Czarnecki gives an example of parents who wanted they kid to pursue a career in music but the genes didn’t prescribe any musical talent for the kid whatsoever. Such genetic hints can dissuade you from following a stillborn dream which may possibly have cost you too much of a fuss. After all, can we argue with our genes? Instead, once genetic markers are identified, you can be prompted into picking an activity that can make you successful quicker - simply because you were meant to do it. But is the rubbing of a cheek enough of an evidence to build a future on?
The chance to read our genes gives us an unprecedented insight into who we are and how we’ve been coded. It allows us to learn why we make the decisions we make, why we like the things we like. It’s genes that determine our susceptibilities and predispositions. It’s as if someone gave you an instruction how to best handle your organism. Well, sort of.
After all, genes are still more a matter of probability than destiny. Even more so, given that on the present stage of scientific research, when we extrapolate present results on the future, we still rely on Big Data gathered from the population, which means they may not necessarily be relatable to individuals.
Besides, DNA continues to mutate during the course of our lives. It is quite sensitive to the social context and all too often it is social factors that influence the expression of individual genes. Perhaps it would have made life so much easier had we known from the very beginning what biology planned for us. But on the other hand, nurture also has a stake here. There is quite a lot of external environmental factors which influence the expression of our genes. We cannot predict those factors in advance. And neither do our genes.
Nevertheless, researchers and scientists are already building models predicting each and every one of all human traits directly from our genes.
It is particularly a slippery slope when we talk about children. Will we soon be able to conclude form the genes (for example those which code the ability to learn and reason) whether a newborn baby is destined to a life of crime or rather destined for greatness? Will we judge and assess kids based on their genetic makeup and choose their education path accordingly? Imagine that the very same moment you are born, you receive your genetic report, your genes are being assessed and finally you get your grade. Your parents already know what your future holds. Perhaps they will start preparing you for a success which is already there in your genes.
Suppose you fail the genetic test. What then? Well, it probably wouldn’t have been you to decide. Sounds much like social sorting, doesn’t it? What looms large here is the possible exacerbation of already existing social inequality. Those to whom nature has been kind might be additionally privileged with an attentive upbringing while those whom nature has grudged any gifts might be deprived of a right to a proper nurture.
The advancements in genetics provide us with a chance to manage our health and even our future. We can make it into a force of good. But before we leap at this opportunity and start mining our genes, we should rather ponder what kind of information we will be looking for and to what use we will put it.
Written by Dare Magazine