A couple of hundred dollars, a few drops of saliva and a stamped envelope is all it takes to get a rundown on your inherited risk of around a hundred more-or-less common conditions, everything from bladder cancer and baldness to male infertility and memory loss. You can place your order by Internet with companies like 23andMe (“genetics just got personal”) and deCODEme (“deCODE your health”).
The cost of sequencing an entire individual genome is about $100,000 right now, and Pacific Biosciences in Menlo Park, California (“a revolution in DNA sequencing is coming”), says it will be able, by 2013, to map all three billion base-pairs of a person’s DNA in a quarter of an hour for a few hundred dollars.
Critics are not enthralled. Many diseases are the result of a complex interplay of many different genes that we’re just beginning to understand. And there is fear that people with dicey genomes could be discriminated against by employers, insurers and banks. (President George W. Bush signed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in the U.S. last year for that very reason.)
But here’s the real question: do you really want to know everything your genome could tell you? Is there any benefit in knowing you’re, say, 20 percent more likely to develop a fatal or debilitating disease? Might the worry about that possibility be almost as damaging to your quality of life as the disease itself?
What do you think?
As fast as the technology as advancing, you don’t have long to make up your mind.
(Image: U.S. Dept. of Energy Office of Science.)