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“The age of consumer genomics has arrived. Nowadays you can send a vial of your spit in the mail and pay to see how your unique genetic code relates to all manner of human activity—from sports to certain diets to skin cream to a preference for fine wines, even to dating.The most widespread and popular companies in this market analyze ancestry, and the biggest of these are 23andMe and AncestryDNA, both with more than five million users in their databases. These numbers dwarf the numbers of human genomes in scientific databases. Genetic genealogy is big business, and has gone mainstream. But how accurate are these tests—truly?
First, a bit of genetics 101. DNA is the code in your cells. It is the richest but also most complex treasure trove of information that we’ve ever attempted to understand. Three billion individual letters of DNA, roughly, organized into 23 pairs of chromosomes—although one of those pairs is not a pair half the time (men are XY, women are XX). The DNA is arranged in around 20,000 genes (even though debate remains about what the definition of a gene actually is). And rather than genes, almost all of your DNA—97 percent—is a smorgasbord of control regions, scaffolding and huge chunks of repeated sections. Some of it is just garbage, left over from billions of years of evolution.
Modern genetics has unveiled a picture of immense complexity, one that we don’t fully understand—although we are certainly a long way from Mendel and his pea experiments, which first identified the units of inheritance we know as genes. Throughout the course of the 20th century we gained a firm grasp of the basics of biological inheritance: how genes are passed from one generation to another and how they encode the proteins that all life is built of, or by. In the 1980s we identified genes that had mutated, making faulty proteins, which could cause terrible diseases such as cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy, for example.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"The biggest topic in British political circles on Monday wasn’t the country’s impending departure from the European Union. It was milkshakes..."
"I often disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., but I've been disturbed by the idea that he should be run out of the Republican Party just because he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses."
"The Icelandic band Hatari, whose members are quite vocal in their animosity towards Israel, held up Palestinian flags... Madonna, likewise, had two of her performers wear Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes."
"To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, I turn to movie critic Roger Ebert's old review of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Trust me on this one.)"
"The money is already here—and has been for years. In the midst of a housing crisis, an injection of cash into the superheated real-estate market seems likely to cause an uptick in evictions and displacement."
"Parents concerned about YouTube debate whether to let their children have their own channels; some forbid it, others send them to summer camp..."
"‘I Had Completely Lost the Knack for Staying Alive..." Warmer weather brings daffodils, rhubarb at the farmer’s market — and, for some, despair."
"With his new book, Howard Stern proves that his rightful place is among the prophets and moral visionaries, not the ‘shock jocks’"
"I’m terrified of parenting in the anti-vaxxer age: Anti-vaccine propaganda isn’t just harmful to children. It threatens to erode our entire sense of community."
"...doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. That is, how what we eat affects how cancers grow..."
"...it represents an impressive achievement: a victory of humankind against the chaos that pervades the universe."
"If trends continue, in 20 years the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. The United States will see a continuing decline in overall numbers, with a growing observant Jewish population..."