Geneticists are a lot like hackers. While hackers crack highly-safeguarded computing codes, geneticists crack–or at least attempt to crack–the code of life.
Are we meant to access this code? What firewalls stand in our way? How many have we overcome? How many are yet to be overcome? When we find answers, are they satisfactory or do they only give rise to more unanswerable questions?
A human brain may not be able to hold much… But our genes, on the other hand, remember it all.
The genome is a code that links and locks every single one of us together. It holds within it; the data of the origins of the human race, your own family history as well as your individual genetic inheritance. We don’t know exactly how old the genome is. What we do know is that if we can crack the code in its entirety–we can not only glimpse into the past, but also predict the potentiality of our possible futures.
To me, the most riveting aspect about this genetic code is its universal uniqueness.
How does that even work?
The human genome tells the story of the interwoven lives of all beings on the planet. It is also a code that is unique to each individual that is born. Even identical twins who appear exactly alike do not share the same code.
When we offhandedly say or remark that something is ‘in the genes’ or that something is just in his or her DNA, what we are saying is that this aspect is unchangeable, enduring and perhaps even indestructible.
DNA consists of just four simple building blocks arranged in patterns along its length. These nucleotides–A, T, C and C–are an alphabetic sequence that are locked into the code of almost every single cell in your body.
The human genome is an equation of sheer mathematical genius. It is is three billion letter pairs, six million data points, two meters of molecules–all neatly compacted into 23 pairs of chromosomes.
Who created this equation? Was it the Creator? If it is a ‘Creator’, then why does the genome destruct itself? Why is only some of the code granted immortality? What parts of the code are destroyed and why?
The study of genetics attempts to answer the question of why and under which conditions certain traits or conditions are passed down from one generation to another. The field of genomics, on the other hand, attempts to study all of a person’s genes.
We humans don’t have all the answers and perhaps we never will. But that has never stopped the rational scientific mind from trying over and over again to figure it all out.
The Human Genome Project (HGP) which was launched in 1990 was a 13-year international scientific research project that remains the world’s largest collaborative biological project. The goal of the HGP was to determine the base pairs that make up human DNA as well as identify and map all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and a functional standpoint.The finished human genome is a mosaic that does not represent any one individual.
Although it represented an advance in understanding the human genome in all its divine complexity, many questions obviously remained unanswered.
While the focus of geneticists in recent decades has been on predicting and preventing disease, geneticists can build models to predict any human trait that can be measured–including behaviours. Is this person destined to repeat the lives of their forebears? Can you inherit traits like an aptitude for entrepreneurship? And what if you happen to be the one who did not inherit that particular trait? And if you did inherit that trait, what if you never got the opportunity to fulfil its potential?
Studies involving more than 300,000 people’s DNA have linked 206 variants to intelligence. It means genetic scores can account for 10 percent of a person’s performance on an IQ test. This has the potential to reach 25 percent within a few years. An American company, Genomic Prediction, even announced that it wants to test IVF embryos for intelligence, so parents can discard those expected to be mentally unfit.
There is clearly a component of heritability in our bodies that we don’t fully understand. Despite the advent of techniques for unlocking the genetic code, scientists have found that the data stored in the four-letter DNA code doesn’t and cannot determine how we will develop and respond to our environment. The most obvious example being that identical human twins exhibit different biological traits, despite their matching DNA sequences.
The questions are complex. The findings do shed new light on certain assumptions we previously held. Despite getting a glimpse into the sheer mathematical genius that undermines human genome… I believe we humans have reached the same conclusion we started out with.
DNA is what defines our starting point in life. What it does not and cannot define is our destiny.