The Language of Life
First, a bit about myself. I am not a SAHM in the traditional sense as you may have gathered from my user name. The “Y” chromosome precludes me from calling myself a stay-at-home-mom, and the acronym for stay-at-home-dad is unfortunate (SAHD). So I call myself a stay-at-home-man, so I technically am still a SAHM!
I have been a reader of SAHMReviews.com for a couple years now, and while the products didn’t always pertain to me, I found the writing style entertaining and believable. When Nicole emailed me a few months back about possibly reviewing some products for her that would benefit from a male’s opinion, it didn’t take much persuasion to hop aboard! I am an early adopter for most technologies, and have a genuine interest in advancements in science, industry, electronics, etc. SAHMReviews had the opportunity to test a couple products in these fields, so I dove in head-first.
My first assignment was a great book just released called “The Language of Life” by Francis S. Collins. For the uninformed, Dr. Collins was the head of the Human Genome Project for fifteen years and now serves as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. This book chronicles the revolutions in our understanding of human DNA and cites many real-life examples of how the information provided by our DNA can be helpful (and sometimes harmful) to how we live our lives.
A few years back, while researching our family tree, I was approached by a person with the same surname as mine. They too were researching their family line, and was interested in finding out if their branch could be matched up to mine. Both of us had solid research dating back into the 1800’s, but no one had ever been able to find out when they migrated to the US or if they were related. This person told me about a new product being offered by Ancestry.com that would use particular genetic markers to determine if two people (or line) were somehow related. It couldn’t tell us exactly how we would be related, but it would say whether or not there was a common ancestor. I passed on the opportunity at the time for fear of my personal information being in the hands of a company that could potentially publish/use/sell the information at a whim. This privacy concern is one that is still being debated in regards to how to use DNA information, and this book covers that topic as well. That being said, after reading this book I have changed my position and realize that the benefits of having the information, whether it be for genealogy purposes or health-related, far outweigh the unknown risks of sharing that information with others.
If you are at all interested in learning about advancements in this field, this book is a wonderful read and written at a level that the average consumer can understand. There are some technical terms, but the author does a great job of ‘dumbing them down’ for us less-than-scientific folk. I do feel impelled to relate one story from the book so you can get a preview of what you will learn about the technology.
Without looking up the names the author used, just imagine this scenario: You are female, and there has never been a history of breast cancer in your family. Somewhere, someone unknown to you has a genetic screening and the results determine that they carry a genetic marker that says they have a predisposition to breast cancer. It had been determined that this particular gene, carried by males, is recessive but always present. Fortunately for you, this person allows their information to be shared, and through some family research, it turns out this person is a far distant cousin of yours – that you shared a common grandfather 5 generations ago. Because of this information, you decide to have the same screening done and find out you carry this genetic marker as well. With this information in hand, you can now make some decisions about your health that may save your life (earlier screenings, etc.). If this faraway relative had not chosen to be screened, or to share that information, you may have never known that you were in a high-risk category…
This is not a quick-read book, and I found myself doing a lot of soul-searching when I didn’t have the book in my hands. It raises some very pertinent questions that only you can answer for yourself. The next decade or so will be filled with extraordinary discoveries, all revolving around our DNA. This book is a great opportunity to begin to understand how those discoveries will impact our lives and you can begin to prepare yourself for the philosophical and ethical questions that will arise.
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