DNA as Destiny

4239 WordsNov 20, 201317 Pages
DNA as Destiny DNA is the book of life. It's also the book of death. In the future we'll all be read cover to cover. Here's what it's like to take the world's first top-to-bottom gene scan. By David Ewing Duncan I FEEL NAKED. EXPOSED. As if my skin, bone, muscle tissue, cells have all been peeled back, down to a tidy swirl of DNA. It's the basic stuff of life, the billions of nucleotides that keep me breathing, walking, craving, and just being. Eight hours ago, I gave a few cells, swabbed from inside my cheek, to a team of geneticists. They've spent the day extracting DNA and checking it for dozens of hidden diseases. Eventually, I will be tested for hundreds more. They include, as I will discover, a nucleic time bomb ticking…show more content…
He's after single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced "snips"), the tiny genetic variations that account for nearly all differences in humans. Imagine DNA as a ladder made of rungs — 3 billion in all — spiraling upward in a double helix. Each step is a base pair, designated by two letters from the nucleotide alphabet of G, T, A, and C. More than 99 percent of these base pairs are identical in all humans, with only about one in a thousand SNPs diverging to make us distinct. For instance, you might have a CG that makes you susceptible to diabetes, and I might have a CC, which makes it far less likely I will get this disease. This is all fairly well-known: Genetics 101. What's new is how startups like Sequenom have industrialized the SNP identification process. Andi Braun and Charles Cantor are finding thousands of new SNPs a day, at a cost of about a penny each. Braun tells me that there are possibly a million SNPs in each person, though only a small fraction are tightly linked with common ailments. These disease-causing SNPs are fueling a biotech bonanza; the hope is that after finding them, the discoverers can design wonder drugs. In the crowded SNP field, Sequenom vies with Iceland-based deCode Genetics, American companies such as Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Orchid
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