And Something’s odd –within—
That Person that I was —
And this One – do not feel the same—
Could it be Madness –this? – Emily Dickinson
When I decided to hack my genome in between washing my toddler’s socks and making a scrapbook of her third year, I should have known there would be a few surprises lying in wait. Many people in my position would question whether they really even wanted to know what predestiny held for them in their genes or at least give it a second thought but not me. My overly curious nature determined that I had to know everything about my DNA from the moment I knew it was a possibility. I also had to hack the DNA of all my relatives who could be convinced to give up their saliva for a DNA test that I inevitably bought them for their birthday. They pretty much thought I was crazy, and how right they would end up being.
“A Beautiful Mind” the biopic of the late John Nash, who died this past weekend at 86, is a portrait of a man burdened by schizophrenia and brilliance, what is popularly known as touched by fire. As it turns out, a beautiful mind might be closer to my own reality than I would ever have imagined before spitting in a test tube. My genetic predispositions have made me feel the weight of my 46 chromosomes worth of underachievement and at the same time intensified my awe of men like John Nash who under the darkness of schizophrenia made startling advances in mathematics, game theory and our conception of our world and ourselves. I may be an underachiever but at least I am a profoundly curious one, and what I have come to discover is that there is probably a gene for that.
After hacking my DNA, my mother’s, my father’s and my daughter Eva’s father’s DNA I have put together an interesting picture of our collective medical risks, personality quirks, and a lot of odd facts that I can categorically say I am no better off knowing. For example I have a gene SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) that predisposes me to sneeze when exposed to sunlight. This has plagued me my entire life, and now we are all better off for knowing that I wasn’t coming down with something it is just a genetic mutation on rs10427255, also called a photic sneeze reflex, an oddity I share with about 25% of people.
On a more concerning note both my mother and I have a ten fold higher risk of breast cancer, and my mother is a survivor, something I believe I am better off knowing, especially as my daughter will likely have inherited at least half of those SNPs. Out of the numerous Snps that predispose a person to cancer we have two of the possible 25 causal mutations on the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes in addition to a host of other SNPs.
After surmising my discoveries I called my mother and father together for a genetic meeting of the minds or rather bodies, my two genetic donors to let them know all about their DNA and what they had given me other than a good education. “I have one gene for hazel eyes like dad, and three for blue eyes and blonde hair like mom, but that one hazel gene makes a lot of sense because my eyes are not blue like mom’s and a lot of people think they are green, now I know why.” They were bored already so I decided to take it up a notch.
“I am going to die at 11am.”
“Your genes, tell you that?”
“No, I am going to commit suicide.”
“I’m joking… but I have a gene mutation on SNP rs7221412 which means I am an intermediate riser, I don’t wake up early or late, which is true. Research also suggests that I am more likely to die on a morning, shortly before 11am.”
“Is there any good news in our DNA?”
“We all have obesity genes and are part of the 88% of the population who cannot maintain weight loss unless by high energy exercise- SNP GS281. Sorry mom walking doesn’t work.”
“I suppose we knew that anyway.” Mom said.
“We all have sprinting muscles though.” I countered with optimism.
“I don’t think I have ever sprinted to anything but the fridge,” Mom said.
“Well we would all benefit from a low fat diet and staying away from carbs but lucky us we all have the genetic mutation that allows us to digest lactose so we can eat all the cheese we want as long as we don’t care about getting fat.”
Mom reaches for a cracker, I pick up the cheese knife and point it at her.
“Put the cracker down, carbs will add at least five pounds over night.”
Then I reconsidered, “But don’t worry you will live long enough to waste away so you might as well have a few slices, you both have longevity genes unlike me who drew the short straw and have but one gene for a shorter lifespan.”
“Are we going to get Alzheimer’s?” Mom asked.
“No, but I will probably end up with dementia- better hope you don’t live past 100.”
“Dad and I have an enhanced hippocampal volume, which means we have a higher IQ.”
“Than me?” Mom asked.
“Who knows but this one might ruin my life,” I say reading from my report, “I evidently have a higher risk of diarrhea and susceptibility to the Norovirus. This alone has solidified my decision not to have any more children.”
“You need give us the good news now.”
“I have a better episodic memory- it must be why I am really good at remembering everything for my blog.”
“And I don’t have such a good memory?” Mom asked.
“No mom you just have cognitive impairment with ageing on snp…”
“Okay enough” She said interrupting. I ignored her.
“To tell us all something we already know- we all have at least three addiction genes, especially for nicotine.”
“What no cigarettes, no booze, no carbs, no cheese?” Mom shook her head in profound disappointment.
“Yes and you are still going to get Gout.”
“Good news?” Dad asked again.
“You have high good cholesterol. Must be all the cheese!”
“Well isn’t that the cherry on the top!”
“We probably shouldn’t eat ice cream we have a gene snp for higher sugar cravings.”
By the time I introduced the hacked family genome to the siblings, there was a family backlash brewing. When we went to Government House in Bermuda to celebrate my parent’s dual Queen’s Badge of Honor for community service, the topic naturally came up over cocktails.
Here we are at Government House: Mom, Dad and the siblings:
“We should be on spritzers, or we will end up in the Mid Atlantic Wellness Center.”
“We have a genetic mutation on snp rs1800497 for addiction.”
“Half the family is in AA.”
“Or should be.”
“Well mom and I have an officially bad gene snp that predisposes us to really BAD hangovers- our dopamine receptors don’t recover as fast as other people, but in this case I think it might be a protective gene.”
“That is optimistic.” My sister said.
“There is a gene snp for that! Mom and I have a gene for optimism and more sociable, less aggressive behavior.”
“Maybe we should try cocaine instead.” Mom offered sipping her wine with an sly smile.
“Oh no mom, we both have a snp predisposing us to cocaine and heroin addiction.”
“We shouldn’t be discussing this at Government house.”
“I don’t believe a word of it, sounds like airy fairy BS.” My sister said.
“You aren’t going to find this on Skeptics.com you know, it’s all written up on PUB MED, this is hard science.”
“Remember what I told you?” my sister asked. I felt a Psychology 101 lesson coming on from her degree twenty years ago.
“What? – that I have an external locus of control, because I read my horoscope, talk to psychics and am now hacking my DNA.”
“Oh I remember, you believe this stuff too- you always told me with horror when we were teenagers that one’s sexual proclivities are inherited from one’s parents, therefore what you like in bed is probably what your mom likes too.”
“No I was going to say you and dad, and Giles must have a gene for being out to lunch, away with the pixies.”
“Oh well there is probably a gene for both, at least we don’t have a gene for liking to be peed on during sex.”
“Thank god for that.”
“We really shouldn’t be talking about this at Government House.” I agreed with my mother for once.
Later on over dinner, Anna Laura’s husband said to me, “I know I am not supposed to notice, but your boobs look huge in that dress.”
“There is a snp for that. I have three large boob genes, lucky me and a ten fold increase for breast cancer so Ill probably have to cut them off eventually.”
There was a collective family eye roll.
“Maybe that’s why people were staring at you at Government House.” My sister added.
“You probably have the gene snp that mom has on rs10246939 – the ability to taste bitterness.” I said with glee.
Saving the best for last, I described to everyone the difference between an Orchid Child and a Dandelion Child. Orchid children tend to be difficult toddlers, prone to externalizing and grow up to become sensitive children who need specific parenting techniques and be coddled into adult existence. Orchids need a greenhouse to thrive, whereas Dandelion children can grow and thrive anywhere, a sidewalk, a metaphorical ghetto, the fifth child of a welfare mother.
“I am definitely a Dandelion.” Announced my mother.
“Me too.” Said my sister.
“Well I’m an Orchid, at SNP rs 1800855 so someone else is an orchid.”
Everyone looked at Dad, who shrugged.
“I think you are an Orchid,” I say to my sister.
“Because you have middle child syndrome- still.”
“What happens to Orchid children who get a Dandelion upbringing?”
“They become drug addicts or generally fail at life, or become highly functioning sociopaths.” I look over at my sister; she looks at me. We laugh.
“What happens to Orchid children who do get a greenhouse upbringing?”
“Orchid children become capable of blooming spectacularly. Eva is an orchid child and I am starting to understand that her raging intemperment and sensitivity is about more than being a toddler, she is an orchid toddler.”
Another collective family eye roll.
“What is so fascinating is that all of this underlies a new genetic theory which suggests that the very genes that plague us as a species, addiction, orchidery etc evolutionarily persist in our genome because in the right environment they can create the most successful people. “
“An Orchid Bloom.”
“Yes, and what is interesting is that not only are dad and I orchid children we also share the mad genius gene.”
“Does that mean you are mad or a genius?”
I suddenly had a vision of all of my exboyfriends dressed in chorus gowns swinging back and forth in rhythm, singing “Yes Jesus!” and nodding in unison.“Crazy.”
But scientifically I answered, “Possibly both, or schizophrenic. We have a homozygous T:T allele on the Rs6994992 SNP on the neuregulin 1 gene, a 65% increased prefrontal lobe activity, high academic performance, high creativity, high psychosis risk and addiction. Touched by Fire. There is a legitimate link between psychosis and creativity, think John Nash, Sylvia Plath, Lord Byron, Van Gogh.”
“Perhaps this is why most of my followers are mental health bloggers?” I added.
“Genetic Delusions of Grandeur,” offered one of my siblings.
“Leave me alone I am blooming,” I responded.
“Are you going to cut your ear off now?”
“No but I probably would if I had become an accountant, instead I am a writer and artist in a long line of writers and artists with the same genetic predisposition for creativity, madness, and addiction. Can someone pass the red wine?”
“Somehow Dad survived thirty years as a lawyer.”
“He drank a lot of scotch.”
Our genetic conversation could continue for years, but I decided as a coup de grace I would make the following prediction for my life based on what I have discovered about my genetic predispositions:
I will die at 11am at age 70 while making love to a man half my age ( rs2811712 lack of physical impairment with age) of an exercise induced stroke ( RS1024611 increased risk of exercise induced ischemic stroke) or heart attack (rs5174 increased risk of myocardial infarction) but what a way to go ( rs53576 more likely to be an optimist) and my substantial estate ( rs6994992 mad genius gene) will be bequeathed to AA and the Mid Atlantic Wellness Center, and my very own orchid child, Eva who is mad like me or like the line from a Charles Bukowski poem, “She is mad, but she is magic, there is no lie in her fire.”
If you would like to hack your own genome, order a basic gene test for $99 on:
And then when you get your results download the raw data off of their website and then run it through this website for $5:
Facinating! I have just read an article about 23andme which says you must not take it to literally as there are so many factors to be taken into account.