Many in the genetico-literary science world have been gnashing their teeth over a recent New York Times story that remarks the unremarkable: a Study Says DNA’s Power to Predict Illness Is Limited>. (The article elaborates on a Science Translational Medicine paper, The Predictive Capacity of Personal Genome Sequencing.) Erika Check Hayden (a must-follow for good writing on genomics and genetics) rounded up the face-palming in the genomics and genetics community. My favorite quick check comes from Razib Khan:
Recall that height is ~90 percent heritable on the population level. But it turns out that the standard deviation of identical twin height differences is still ~35-40 percent that of random siblings! What I want to see next, an article in The New York Times: “Identical twins not always identical in height; genes don’t explain everything.”
That’s from a post in which Razib productively ponders why Kobe Bryant is a much better player than his father was. His point cannot, apparently, be made too many times: genes don’t just build us in a vaccum. They build us by responding, ever and always, to information incoming from the environment. It starts when sperm meets egg; it stops when you do. You’re not the product of a construction product. You’re the product of — you are — a constant conversation between your genes and the environment, which includes both you and the surrounding world.
Conveying that is very difficult work taken up by good geneticists and by good writers who write about genetics.
Which is one more reason to read Razib Khan, who has been standing watch on this for years, and Erika Check Hayden, who is just killing it these days. You can catch Razib at Gene Expression (where today you can catch him holding a baby. Find Erika at her byline at Nature, her posts at the incomparable group blog Last Word on Nothing, and her website. Twitter handles: RazibKhan and Erika_Check.
Changes: Corrected Science to Science Translational Medicine as source of the paper.
Image: Double Helix bridge to Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.