‘Inheritance’ author explains how genes change our lives and how our lives change our genes

Cover%20Image_Inheritance

Back in high school biology, in between talks on Punnett squares and dominant traits, your teacher likely implied that your genetic destiny was fixed at birth. You got some genes from your mom and some from your dad, and that’s how you came along. But now, new information about genes has shown that they affect your life even after you’re out of the womb.

“Inheritance,” by Dr. Sharon Moalem, describes how the study of genetics has changed and what it might mean for the future of humanity. There have been numerous advances since the sequencing of the human genome, and an influx of new information has changed the way many scientists think about genetics.

“Now there’s the idea that you can change your genetic destiny,” says Moalem.

Take identical twins, for example, who share the same DNA yet can be unalike in many ways.

“What they do with that DNA in their life can be radically different,” Moalem says. “Exercise, for example, can trigger genes in your muscles.”

Similarly, smoking tobacco triggers certain genes that help in the breakdown of caffeine. This decreases the effects of caffeine on people who smoke, leading to another Starbucks run.

“There’s an interplay between our environment and what we do, what we eat, drink, that impacts our genes,” Moalem says. “How we play it is up to us.”

These new ideas have far-reaching implications. Take Angelina Jolie, for example. She discovered that she carried a BRCA1 gene that gave her a high chance of developing breast cancer. Her decision to have a double mastectomy all but eliminated her risk.

“She became a pre-vivor rather than a survivor,” Moalem says. “That’s a whole new class which never existed before.”

But as genetic screening like the one Jolie received becomes more common and less expensive, a world of new privacy risks opens up. There is no law in the U.S. preventing insurance agencies from denying coverage because of a genetic predisposition to a disease. Someone could, Moalem warns, swipe your coffee cup, hack your genome and expose information, not only about you but about your entire family, too. The idea of genetic discrimination offers a new kind of vulnerability.

“All of a sudden it’s exposure in an unprecedented scale,” Moalem says. “We have all this concern about identity theft — this is much worse.”

Further, as genetic screening becomes more common in prenatal care, parents might be able to make decisions about their children’s genetic makeup.

“We’re now screening for things we were never able to check for before,” Moalem says. “So if you don’t want to have a child with dyslexia, you can screen for that.”

The practice of eugenics — improving a human’s genes — might decrease human biological diversity. Screening against certain traits will limit the number of possibilities.

“The issue then becomes: Are we going to start selecting, as a society, against or for certain traits?” Moalem says. “We might be heading down the road toward sort of blunting human potential.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

California passes 'yes-means-yes' campus sexual assault bill

Californian lawmakers passed a law on Thursday requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on…

National

Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all…

By Stephanie NebehayGENEVA (Reuters) - Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, but many remain trapped by the advance…

International

North Korean leader's money manager defects in Russia:…

A senior North Korean banking official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South Korean newspaper…

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 29,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on August 29, 31 and 31. Several streets and avenues will be…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

Movies

Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Entertainment

Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…