STEM Corner

Your monthly dose of what’s happening in the STEM field.

Sanjana Chava, Feature Editor

Recently, DNA test kits like 23andme and Ancestry have become quite popular. Customers just send a sample of saliva to the company and after a few weeks, they receive a comprehensive report on their individual genetics. Customers can learn a lot about themselves- from what their ancestors were like, to their ability to match a musical pitch.

But it turns out that genes have an even larger influence on us, mainly on our decisions. Studies have found that there are specific groups of genes that are related to intelligence, academic achievement, and even criminal activity. With this kind of information, parents could almost figure out what kind of life their child may lead, based on science.

However, this information may also have some negative implications. If the results were required to be shared at schools, for example, kids with genes associated with lower intelligence could be discriminated against. A person with genes linked to criminal activity could be placed under scrutiny by the police. This could also lead to people blaming their actions or behaviors on their genes. However, this “gene reading” is not very accurate and it is not concrete evidence on how a person may lead their life. Making predictions on genes is a large claim especially since there are many different gene variations and it is hard to differentiate between all of them. But, the idea of “gene determinism (the belief that an individual’s actions are based on their genes)” is not completely far off,  technology advances in the near future can make this idea reality, and it may carry some serious implications.

What if you don’t feel safe submitting your DNA to companies such as 23andme and Ancestry? After all, your DNA contains a lot of personal and private information. This is where the program DeepGestalt steps in. DeepGestalt is a program/algorithm created by Karen Gripp, a medical geneticist at the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and her team. The program has the ability to tell what genetic syndromes a person has, just by scanning a picture of the person’s face and studying their facial characteristics.   What makes DeepGestalt special compared to other gene identifying technology is its ability to detect rare genetic disorders, which otherwise would be hard to discover. With DeepGestalt, patients can figure out what genetic disorders they have or may have in the future, even the rarest ones, ahead of time and take the necessary actions needed to cure or prevent them.

(Source: Discover Magazine)