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Genome, Sweet Genome

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Pharmacies recently began selling home DNA testing kits. A foray into what’s called “personalized genomic medicine,” the kits promise to foretell much more than your daily horoscope and Madame Linkova’s palm readings could—at least for the bad stuff.

By spitting into a cup (the grail of modern biological alchemy), then sending the specimen to someplace in Michigan, I believe, you will learn your genetic predisposition to some of the best-marketed life-threatening illnesses of the day. The benefit of knowing? You will have greater control over your words and actions in the days to come. The bad: You may discover you don’t have that many days left.

Call me old-fashioned (and that’s about the most charitable thing I’m called around this household), but I like my future fraught with mystery. Lying on the beach, reading a DNA report that suggests my chances are good of one day not even knowing I’ve wandered onto a beach would take a lot of the enjoyment out of beachcombing for me.

But the purveyors of genetic prediction have it all wrong if they think most of us want to know with scientific precision that our surging 401(k)s and clever e-trading aren’t going to do us much good where we’re heading. Astrologers and fortunetellers know that to make a steady buck in the foretelling business, they must go heavy on success and happiness, but mix in just enough foreboding to make it ring true while keeping the message general enough to be virtually universal. The DNA testers haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.

Besides, we already know how it all ends. Why should we have to nail down the gory details beforehand? It’s life in syndication. We’re watching something we’ve seen over and over again, simply for the sake of watching it over and over again. (Come to think of it, that’s awfully close to the definition of insanity.)

Mind you, when the Human Genome Project identifies a luck gene that can apply to Powerball, Delaware Park, the NFL and parking at Christiana Mall the weekend before Christmas, I’ll be spitting like a cobra into that little DNA cup. Or how about discovering a spousal gene that, with appropriate, laser-targeted drug therapy, makes your beloved suddenly see you as the man of her dreams rather than the walking and talking version of a bad DNA test result?

Searches for positive genetic markers will never take place because we all possess the gene that makes us favor bad news over good. It’s the waiting-for-the-other-cement-shoe-to-drop gene that compels us to receive good news with the expectation that it must soon be followed by bad.

The Judeo-Christian gene—what I more secularly refer to as the E-gene in honor of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus—is our heritage here in the West. Epictetus believed that by always believing in the worst that could happen, you will never be disappointed.

Which seems about right.

Reid Champagne’s wife reports she dreams of the discovery of a hamper gene that could be engineered to keep the “man of her dreams” from leaving his jogging clothes strewn about the bedroom.

 

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