In a breakthrough discovery, researchers have identified a significant causal factor in educational achievement. It involves sitting one’s ass down at a table and opening books.
The problem of the underlying causes of educational achievement have stymied geneticists for years. Back in the Progressive Era, eugenicists attributed most of the variance in IQ, or intelligence quotient–a test designed to measure educational achievement–to a single Mendelian gene. Today, geneticists are just as obsessed with the genetic causes of IQ. After years of study, they have succeeded in spreading the effect out over several genes, while whittling the genetic basis down to under two percent of the variation. A recent study in Science magazine found that all known genetic variations combined explained 1.98% of the variation in achievement; the largest single effect of a genetic variant was 0.02%.
A different approach was taken by a researcher who prefers to be known simply as “Miss Perkins.” With her half-moon glasses, her hair done up in a tidy bun, and her sensible shoes, she is the picture of an elementary school teacher. Which she is. Collecting data over more than 20 years of teaching social studies to 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at Martin Luther Malcolm Kennedy Roosevelt Elementary and Middle School, in Slippery Rock, Missouri, she has found that studying (STUH-dee-ying) explains a whopping 60% of the variance in educational achievement–no matter whether it is measured in grade-point average, standardized test scores, or subjective evaluations.
Another 30% of the total variation can be attributed to parents teaching their kids to put their butts in the chair and keep them there, without videos, music, or cell phones to distract them. A further 8% was attributed to nutrition.
The results have rocked the biomedical world. “I’m literally stunned,” said Dick Dorkins, of the Society for the Prevention of Intelligent design, Teleology, Or Other Nonsense (SPITOON), a biological think tank in Tumwater, Washington. “I feel exactly like I did last week when I accidentally got TASERED at the end of a bar fight.”
Not all scientists are convinced by the results, which involve 573 children and 1,719,000,000,000 base pairs. Nicholas Spork, a genomicist at Kashkow University, best known for its discovery of the “Republican gene,” said that Perkins’s “one-size fits all” approach was a “pedagogical dinosaur.” He was pioneering a personalized education approach, he said, that would tailor standardized tests to an individual’s genome. He also said he had applied for a federal grant to buy fourteen new high-speed sequencers that would identify 2 trillion base pairs in 93 seconds. “It’s just a hunch of course,” Spork said with a conspiratorial wink, “but I have every confidence that, with enough venture capital, in ten years we can double the amount of variance explained by single-nucleotide polymorphisms” (or “snips”). That would bring the total to around 3 percent.
Meanwhile, Miss Perkins continues her study—and her students continue their studying. She teaches about 60 students a year, in two classes. Her most high-tech tools are a globe, in the corner, a whiteboard (without a projector), and a terrific set of dry-erase markers, ranging from deepest violet through the spectrum to cherry red. But that’s not all. “Over the summer, a parent donated me a set of grays and blacks,” she said proudly during a quiet moment in class. “They were expensive, but oh, this will help a great deal. Nothing’s too good for my kids. Derek! What do you think you’re doing? Sit down and be quiet this instant, or you’ll have extra homework!”
The recent Supreme Court decision striking down the patenting of naturally occurring genes is being hailed as a victory for patients and healthcare providers, because sky-high licensing fees can no longer be charged by companies holding a monopoly on genetic information. Some biotech companies are down in the dumps, however, as they fear smaller returns on discoveries and thus lower incentives to develop new gene tests. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests at the center of the SCOTUS case, developed and licensed exclusively by Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics, helped propel Myriad’s 2012 earnings to a snip shy of half a billion dollars–equal to the GDP of the British Virgin Islands, which has much better rum drinks than Utah.
Avaris Pharmaceuticals–based, conveniently, under a tax-sheltering palm tree in the British Virgin Islands–has announced a bold new strategy it hopes will become a new industry standard for gouging providers and patients alike: gene trademarks.
Using a variety of newly available technologies, Avaris plans to “brand” genes to give them a distinctive look and feel. Traditional pharmaceuticals have used this approach since the mid-20th century. The color and shape of a pill is known in the industry as “trade dress.” Think Zantac’s blue pentagon, Viagra’s blue diamond, or the “purple pill,” Prilosec. The physician and historian of medicine Jeremy Greene has discussed how trade dress is used to instill confidence on the part of doctors and, with direct-to-consumer marketing, patients themselves. But can Avaris really create “trade dress” for genes?
“We can create a trade dress for genes,” said Ray P. N. Pillage, a senior scientist at Avaris. Pillage offered several scenarios by which trademarked genes could become a reality. One is fluorescent labeling. Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH) has been in use since the 1990s as a technique for staining whole chromosomes. Avaris scientists are working on ways to create microscopic logos on engineered chromosomes that carry particular genes. By placing a sample under a special microscope, a routine technician could check that a chromosome carried a particular gene. Pillage imagines a host of attention-getting devices that could usher in a colorful era of flashing, flickering chromosomes, reminiscent of the golden age of neon storefront signs of the early 20th century. “It’ll be like Times Square in a dish,” said Pillage.
Another technique could involve radioactive labeling of individual nucleotides. This is an even older technique that dates back to the years immediately after World War II. Substituting hot isotopes of phosphorus, nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen for their non-radioactive atomic counterparts could enable researchers to create intricate patterns in the DNA itself. Specific forms of naturally occurring genes could be labeled with unique eye-catching designs and even logos. “We might even be able to embed subliminal messages,” said Pillage, his eyes widening and little flecks of saliva appearing in the corners of his mouth. “You know, like when they spliced a single frame of a Coca-Cola into a movie and suddenly you felt thirsty?” An intrepid reporter takes the bait: “So, you’ll make technicians want a soft drink?” “No, that’s small potatoes–and anyway a different market niche. We’ll make you think, ‘Say, a high-Speed sEquencing machine would be eXcellent! And PErhaps a New In Situ fluorescence microscope!'”
For now, trademarked genes would not be marketed to the public. Branded DNA would be delivered, ice cold, to genetic testing laboratories and biotech companies seeking to develop new tests. The hope is that the labeled genes will inspire confidence that the DNA is the “real thing.” If the product can be trusted to have zero impurities, Pillage said, “things will go better” in the lab.
The beauty of trademarking, from a marketing point of view, is that in modifying the DNA, it then becomes patentable–even though no biological activity is introduced to the molecule. It will respond to the same genetic tests. By dressing up the DNA, furthermore, industry executives hope to instill the same sense of confidence trade dress confers in pharmaceuticals. It seems likely that a new “generic DNA” industry will follow suit, providing a lower-cost–but perhaps lower trust–alternative to “name brand” genes.
“It’ll be a goldmine,” said Pillage, reaching into a company refrigerator. “Have a Coke?”
Call it the Biological October Surprise. Last week, just in time to potentially shape the final days of the presidential campaigns, researchers identified a particular form of a gene that is associated with Republican voting patterns. The gene, dubbed Pol-9, showed up in a meta-analysis of Genome Wide Association Studies correlating DNA sequence with exit poll data from the past four presidential elections and six mid-term elections. The findings were published in the October 31 issue of Political Scientism, a leading journal for the geneticization of pretty much everything.
A team from Kashkow University led by Dr. Jeannie Masculator correlated one form of the gene, Pol-9 BolX, with several well-established traits among Republican voters. These included voting against one’s own economic interests, belief in the right to impose one’s values on others, and advocating the rollback of a wide slate of humanitarian and civil rights issues.
The Republican Gene seems to be part of an entirely different metabolic and hormonal pathway, but it too has sexual correlates, although they seem to be contradictory. Preliminary findings suggest that Republicans too are predisposed to infidelity but also in this case to polygamy and lack of empathy. Scientists say these findings are still inconclusive and conclude that conclusions therefore are unwarranted, though they warrant further study.
Political strategists were quick to leap on the news. Democratic leaders in charge of the ground game immediately proposed DNA testing as a method of voter identification. Some insiders, who declined to be named for this article, even hinted they might seek to gerrymander certain voting districts by genome sequence. “Republicans have a herd mentality,” our source said. “They tend to live in similar environments.” If these blocs can be split, he said, Democrats have a chance to disarm the “genetic ruling class” that has been coalescing in recent years.
The search for the genetic basis of voting patterns is becoming increasingly mainstream. Social scientists are increasingly turning to genetics to explain complex behaviors, turning away from traditional explanations such as history and economics. “The beauty of the genetic worldview,” according to an editorial in the same issue of Political Scientism, “is that the more we break down the boundaries between genetics and everything else, the more genetic everything else seems.”
Sociologists say we live in an age of “biological citizenship,” in which our genetic ties are as important as our political ones, and in which communities bound by disease, disability, or allergy can be more close-knit than geographical neighborhoods. In this political season, then, we cannot afford to be ignorant about the biological status of our presidential candidates.
With this in mind, I issue a call for the Romney campaign to release their candidate’s genome sequence. Four years ago, conservatives sought the release of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Widely perceived by the left as a scam to distract attention from the issues, the tactic nevertheless reflected the right’s alertness to biology as an important factor in fitness for office. They were fighting the wrong battle–the claim was not even 47% true–but genotopia takes the point about biology and politics. We need to know Mr. Romney’s genetic status if he is to be considered for the highest office in the land, that of Tax-Cutter-in-Chief.
As a Mormon, Mr. Romney’s genealogical relationships will surely be thoroughly documented in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. They will reveal many relevant facts about his biological status. For example, his inbreeding coefficient must, as stipulated by a little-known paragraph in the Republican platform, must be at least 0.75 (where 1.0 means you married your clone). Circumstantial evidence is not sufficient when the stakes are this high—we need to see the data.
Modern genome sequencing can also disclose many genetic conditions that could render one unfit for office:
- In 2008, both embarrassment and campaign donations could have been spared had John McCain’s predisposition to dementia been identified.
- A late-onset form of dementia known as Reagan’s disease has been shown to arise in the third year of the Presidential term, in afflicted individuals.
- Ford’s ataxia, a loss of muscular control in the limbs and neck, leads to lack of coordination and often results in injury, often serious but always comical. Most often seen in former athletes who become politicians, it is inherited as a predisposition that is then made patent through lifestyle choices.
- Genome-wide association studies have also shown high probabilization of destitution in the grammaticalness thingy of the brain—a condition known as Bushism—that could be devastating for the Decider.
- Recently, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, or “snips”) have also been identified that show strong (well, okay, weak—but some, definitely some) correlation with proposed genes for politophobia (morbid fear of government) and aeronautaphasia, the inability to grasp aerodynamics.
- Multiple Spousal Cadillac Syndrome—once thought relatively benign—has now been decisively linked to the tragic and devastating psychiatric condition hyperpecuniphilia, an obsessive-compulsive disorder that in late stages can lead to the afflicted sitting amid giant piles of cash, running coins through his fingers and crying out, “Mine, ha ha! All mine!”
The only way these and countless other politicogenetic disasters can be decisively avoided is by getting Mr. Romney to step up to the plate and spit into the cup. Indeed, the Romney campaign should be anxious to prove their candidate’s biological fitness. A quick-and-dirty genome profile can be had for a few hundred dollars, and a gold-plated whole genome analysis for a few thousand. We should demand that Mr. Romney produce his entire sequence for public scrutiny and haplotype analysis. Remember: should he win in November, Paul Ryan would be just a SNP away from the Oval Office.
From: “Dean Benjamin Franklin Lucre, MD” <email@example.com>
Date: July 16, 2011 8:59:59 AM EDT
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “email@example.com”
Subject: Kaschkow University Medical School brand and name equity: Use of the brand mark
Friends, Subjects, Stakeholders:
We are asking for your help in our ongoing effort to optimize the Kaschkow University Medicine (TM) name equity and brand. And when I say “we” I mean me, and when I say “asking for your help” I mean that resistance is futile.
As many of you know, as of July 1, the Kaschkow University Medical School is a publicly traded company, represented on the Shanghai, FTSE, Deutsche Boerse, and other international stock exchanges. This move represents the culmination of our great tradition of service.
Founded in 1845 as an almshouse for the crippled, diseased, and disadvantaged, Kaschkow has evolved through many stages: public hospital, teaching hospital, private research institute, and now a Fortune 500 company with an annual budget greater than that of the Czech Republic.
The Kaschkow University Medicine (TM), brand mark represents our five-part mission of profit, research, teaching, patient care, and profit. Use of the Kaschkow University Medicine (TM) name benefits both the user and our Organization. But mostly the Organization. It enables potential customers and investors to identify our fiscal, intellectual, and clinical property. Indeed, the Kaschkow University Medicine (TM) name equity and brand mark are our most important assets. More important than our patients. More important than our research. More important than you.
Occasionally, our Marshalls (formerly “Department Chairs”) and Secretaries General (“Division directors”) depart from the officially sanctioned logo, color scheme, and boilerplate text in a misguided effort to make their program stand out. While, in principle, we applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of such activities, these or any other expressions of individualism must and will be punished, for the following reasons:
§ Use of anything but the Kaschkow University Medicine (TM) brand mark confuses our administrators, shareholders, and patients, sending them to the drug store, and often to the liquor store. Such self-medication is counter-productive to the Kaschkow International Strategy for Monetizing Yet Another Sector of Society (KISMYASS);
§ Creating any image, phrase, or idea other than that officially sanctioned by our VP Marketing denies your program the blessing of the Good Dean of the West Campus—and incurs the wrath of the Wicked Dean of the East Campus. You do NOT want this to happen. Just ask the “Emeritus” Premier of Pharmacology, next time you pass by the basement of the old Physiology Building; and
§ Any use of other marks dilutes the name equity and effectiveness of our brand. This, actually, is the main reason.
We remind you that there is only one official Kaschkow University Medicine (TM) brand identity. It and only it must appear on all materials used or possessed by anyone affiliated with Kaschkow Medicine. This applies to websites, Powerpoint presentations, brochures, screensavers, stationery, Post-It notes, stethoscopes, writing implements, clothing (including but not limited to scrubs, surgeon’s masks, nurses’ uniforms, garter belts, fishnet stockings, dog collars,…ah, excuse us, got carried away,…), barware, coasters, and anything else you wear, use, or display. All of these items may be purchased, with before-tax Kasch Dollars, from the Kaschkow Store, conveniently located in the courtyard between the al-Forwun and Oneforal buildings. In addition, all vehicles failing to prominently display the Kaschkow logo on the hood, roof, doors, and (where applicable) trunk will be considered fair targets for the University snipers.
As a reminder, the punishment for failing to comply with University policy on matters deemed to be of strategic importance is public flogging for the first offense; death for the second offense; and promotion with full tenure for the third offense.
We are here to help. The urge for originality (Self-Expression Disorder) is a diagnosable condition and can be treated with a combination of counseling and medication. Kaschkow offers all its subjects free diagnostics, and supports treatment at 80% plus a $10 copay. To arrange for an educational session contact Francis F. Doublespeak, Director of Brand Management and Reprogramming, at firstname.lastname@example.org; for diagnostics and therapy, contact Mistress Candace, Director of Identity Management and Humiliation, at email@example.com.
Dean Benjamin Franklin Lucre, MBA, MD
Overlord and CEO, Kaschkow University Medicine (TM)
Joe and Mary Juke are models of piety. They attend services twice a week, are active in faith-based charity organizations, and their house brims tastefully with Christian iconography and literature. They describe themselves as “fundamentalists,” although Joe is quick to emphasize, “We’re moderate fundamentalists—we don’t bomb clinics or anything.” They are planning to have a family, and they are making sure to create a pious environment for their children. They know that the setting in which a child is raised helps determine the kind of adult he or she becomes.
But for the Jukes, books, icons, and saying “Grace” are not enough. In what is being cited as a milestone in personal genomics, Joe and Mary have taken steps to ensure their baby is religious—by selecting its genes.
Using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a combination of genetic screening and in vitro fertilization (IVF), Joe and Mary are loading the genetic dice for their progeny, selecting embryos that carry the traits they want in little Joe Jr. (or mini-Mary). Modern techniques allow them to select for a wide range of qualities, from avoiding hereditary diseases, to selecting eye, hair, and skin color, to shaping aspects of personality. For example, choosing a combination of half a dozen genes allows them to add a cumulative 40 points to their unborn child’s IQ. Many of these tests have been available for years, although they have only recently begun to be available to consumers. But the most striking decision in their family-planning process was to expressly select for embryos that will grow up to be religious, because they carry the allele known colloquially as the “god gene.”
“It kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Chosen One,” Mary says.
Sequencing the human theome
The gene, which was identified statistically in twins in a study published in 2005, was recently cloned and sequenced, as reported in the online journal Nature Theology. Dubbed yhwh1, the gene correlates strongly with feelings of religious fervor. Studies show that the gene encodes a protein that is expressed in a part of the brain called Chardin’s area 86, long associated with religious activity and, strangely, anterograde amnesia. One famous patient was Guineas Phage, a virologist who suffered an injury with a pipetteman that resulted in a plastic tube being driven precisely into area 86; he spent the last two decades of his life on a constant pilgrimage along US Route 66 between Kingman and Barstow, accompanied by his wife, Winona, whom he continually left behind at gas stations.
Particular expression of religiosity in a given individual varies according to environment; what is inherited is the capacity for intense religious experience and evangelism. First described in the Amish in a classic study of the 1960s, the trait was described as an autosomal recessive with high penetrance, and was linked to a rare inherited form of dwarfism. Recent analyses have also found the trait occurring at high frequency among charismatic ministers, shamans, and suicide bombers.
The yhwh1 allele is one of the latest findings in the burgeoning field of “theomics,” which aims to identify all genes associated with the practice of preaching, as well as general feelings of spirituality. Researchers plan to complete the Human Theome Project by December 21, 2012, when, according to ABC News, the world as we know it may come to an end. Here are some of the most exciting new findings of the HTP:
▪ Scientists estimate that at least 400 genes are involved with religious feelings or activity.
▪ A related project seeks to uncover the epigenetics of evangelism, which is thought to be caused by methylation of regions of the X chromosome, a reversible process that can profoundly affect gene expression.
▪ A newly discovered kinase, called Bub666, is strongly correlated with atheism. It seems to be responsible for the breakdown of yhwh1, suggesting that biochemists are approaching a mechanistic explanation of religious experience.
▪ Rocker Ozzy Osborne has had his genome sequenced. Preliminary results show 85% homology with a Presbyterian minister from Des Moines.
“It’s tremendously exciting research,” said Mary Magdalene-Gohdtsdottir, a senior researcher in the University of Utah’s Department of Omics. “Just think of it: the genes for God! Isn’t that cool?” Indeed, the federal government thinks so. NIH Director Francis Collins, a molecular biologist and born-again Christian, has recently created a National Institute of the Molecular Biology of Yahweh (NIMBY), with an annual research budget of $400/year, as part of the government’s effort to support faith-based initiatives in biomedicine.
But is it science?
Some critics have called the Jukes’ actions a step toward eugenics, described in the 1920s as the “self-direction of human evolution.” They see religiosity as a gift, not something that can be ordered from a catalog. “This is an outrage,” said the Reverend Reginald S. Inkblot, of Southboro Baptist Church in Onan, Kansas. “Religion can’t be in your genes. Science can’t explain it. It’s just a part of who…you…um, are. It’s just in your…uh, yea.” He brightened momentarily and added, “If God had wanted us to be religious, he would have….oh, wait. Damn!”
Others are appalled that religion would receive scientific consideration from scientific foundations at all. Dick Dorkins, President of the atheistic Society for the Prevention of Intelligent design, Theology, Or Other Nonsense (SPITOON), calls the entire effort a “travesty.” “If I must check my brain at the church-house door,” he said in a Skype interview, “then you must check your soul at the laboratory door. Come on—be fair.”
Dorkins worries that should the procedure become widespread, it could lead to nonreligious persecution. If those chosen by PGD tend to express genes such as yhwh1, scientists predict, it could lead to changes in gene frequency across the population. Dorkins envisions a dystopian scenario in which an atheistic underclass washes the wineglasses and polishes the pews for their genetic spiritual superiors. “It will be GATTACA crossed with The Ten Commandments,” Dorkins said, an audible quiver in his voice.
Evolution in religious hands
Some theologians have condemned in vitro fertilization because it normally results in the destruction of unused embryos. However, new gene therapy techniques make it possible to link a “suicide gene” to alternative forms of the desired genes in Joe’s sperm samples; thus, only sperm that carry the traits they want survive to fertilize Mary’s eggs. No embryos are destroyed in the process. This makes in vitro fertilization acceptable to many pro-life Christians.
Joe and Mary dismiss critics who say they are taking evolution into their own hands. “That’s just your theory,” says Joe. They view their decision to choose the religiosity of their unborn child as a command from above. “WWJC?,” Mary asks. “Who would Jesus clone?”
Ironically, as Biblical literalists, the Jukes dismiss Darwinian evolution as “unproven.” To them, the earth is 4,000 years old, and all the types of animals in the world today were on Noah’s Ark. They see themselves as spearheading a Crusade of believers into biomedicine.
His eye acquiring that spark of evangelism that is a tell-tale sign of heavy methylation at Xq66, Joe’s voice deepened and he intoned, “The heresy of modern science will only be righted when human evolution is safely in the hands of people who do not believe in it.”