7 ways the genome might change what you believe about the universe

28 Jul

Georgia Dunston. Photo courtesy of ©Jay Fletcher, BioMedical Faces of Science

We spoke this morning by phone with Dr. Georgia Dunston, a silver-tongued genetics professor at Howard University.

Extracting from our conversation, we present here seven ways in which Dr. Dunston says thinking about genes might impact the way we think about life.

  1. We tend to see reality as the external driving into the internal.  “Genomics shows us a picture of reality from the inside out.”
  2. The genome affects how we see ourselves. It shows us that we are all unique, but it also shows us that we are almost identical.  It also shows us that less than 2 percent of our total inheritance is involved in the making of proteins, or the making of our “flesh.”
  3. Genomics forces us to ask questions about our identity.  Who are you when you say “I’m African-American,” or, “I’m female,” or, “I’m a mother,” or “I’m the president”?  Just as our own differentiated cells are rooted in identical codes yet distinct in the paths they take, differences in humans and populations are reflections of our histories and our environments.
  4. The genome presents us with the opportunity to understand the stories of our origins, migrations and adaptations.  Human stories such as these are fundamental to our belief systems, which in turn give us purpose.
  5. Biology has come to show us that bodies are huge systems of parts that work together.  “The genome unfolds and reveals for us how to make a body in exquisite detail.”  Now that we know the structure of the genome, we are working now to understand how genes function.  But epigenetics (which studies how genes are regulated) has shown us that you can’t know this outside of the context of the body acting in its environment.   Our beliefs, our minds, and our behaviors all impact our bodies at the physical level.  “The genome is governed by what you believe life is.”
  6. Genomics has shown us that the story of our genes is not the story of disease, death and dying.  It is the story of health.  It’s the story of life.
  7. Through genomics we see that as humans we may be only tadpoles in the scheme of a larger process.  We see that we are nested in something larger than ourselves: Life.  You came from it. You can’t define it.  You can’t get out of it.  You are in it.  And life is unlimited.
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