A guide focuses on direct-to-consumer genetics and the genomic social network.
Pistoi (Il DNA Incontra Facebook, 2012) begins this edifying work with an exploration of his own DNA. He fills a test tube with spit and sends it off to 23andme.com, a company that offers direct-to-consumer genetic services. For the price of $99, he will learn about his own genetic profile. The author admits that, as someone who has studied the genetic material of other people for years (he holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology), it feels a bit strange for him to be looking at an analysis of his own. Yet this is the state of present-day technology. Consumers who pay for such a process can join a social network of genetic relatives, discover common ancestors, and even delve into more esoteric topics like the idea of following diets based on their DNA. Of course, this all comes with a price, whether it is the complications of genetic privacy or unscrupulous businesses attempting to cash in on ideas without a lot of scientific backing. In the end, Pistoi warns that, though the technology is thrilling, “genetics is not destiny and DNA is not prophecy.” The manual strikes a highly readable balance between excitement and caution. Although readers initially get more detail about the specifics of the author’s spitting into a tube than they may have bargained for (“My spit tube is only half full and my salivary glands are already dry”), the impressive book explores territory that is both easy to understand and enlightening. From a discussion of alleles (“Each allele is a different flavour of the same gene that exist in a population…we inherit two alleles of each gene and their combination affects our traits”) to describing the ways in which genetic testing can aid law enforcement, topics are underscored with useful information. For instance, on the ever controversial subject of race, Pistoi points out that the concept is generally understood to be a social construct. As the author notes about genetic markers in different populations, “none is found only in one or another, making it impossible to establish any category that is remotely scientifically accurate.” What then, can be gleaned from human DNA? A lot of illuminating things, it turns out, but certainly not everything.
An indispensable resource for understanding the complex world of over-the-counter genetic testing.