Book review: My beautiful genome: Exposing our genetic future

This brief book review by Vicky Millins was first published in the 2013 Mill Hill Essays.

The author walks us gently through the required subject matter of genetics and genetic analysis, and examines whether genetic analysis is useful or not. Using her own genetic analysis as a starting point she explores what it has meant to her and her family. She also compares how the major providers of personal genome analysis give you your results and how easy it was to deal with them, as well as how much they charge for the service.

The results for certain disorders are given in the form of probabilities. The best companies provide help with understanding the results, or will test for more disorders. Typically those disorders where a single gene is responsible gave the most certain results.

There was no commercial company currently conducting expression analysis of a person’s genome, which is probably going to be needed before most of this information is going to be useful: the environment affects the genes which affects our phenotype. This kind of analysis is on the horizon but not here yet. Gene expression analysis will possibly allow us to choose to adapt our lifestyles, i.e. environment, to suit our genome’s sensitivities. As it is, with the level of knowledge we currently have about most disorders, most people who get their results do not make changes in their lifestyle choices. If there were more certainty about the results people would feel more that they can make a difference.

I enjoyed the book because it taught me what is out there. However, just because I didn’t like the fact that what I think is needed is not yet commercially available, did not mean I did not value the information I got from the book. The author was very honest in discussing their results and how they felt about them. The book gave me hope for the future of genetic analysis: after many years of research it does seem as though we are moving steadily in the right direction. The promise of being able to know before trying a tablet for depression or other illness for which drugs are often given at random in the hope they work, or at doses that take ages to optimise, gives me great optimism for the future of healthcare based on what we learn from gene expression analysis.

The book was shortlisted for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

My beautiful genome: Exposing our genetic future by Lone Frank is published by OneWorld publications, 2011.

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