Release Mitt Romney’s Genome!

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.

Sign me up

Check out the delicious spoof over at The DNA Exchange. It’s a program for the “National Education Conference of the National Society of Genome Service Specialists.” Sponsored by the likes of “UneedaTest, Inc.,” “Twist-of-Fate, Inc.,” and “BraveNew Analytics,” the conference program features panel discussions such as “Clinical trials—a barrier to patient uptake of new genetic tests” and “Fear of genetic disease—your best marketing tool.” Breakout counseling sessions include “How To Appear To Promote Autonomy, Empower Patients, And Seem Non-Directive – But Still Increase Hospital Revenue.”

No conference is complete without awards. This one includes the Huntington Award for most TestAll tests ordered for adult onset diseases in a pediatric setting and the GATTACA award For Strongest Advocate of the TestAll! Really, Really Expanded Newborn Screening Panel.

At day’s end, conferees can hoist a few at the Uneeda Party, “an evening of food, drink, fun, and clever sales pitches” by the sponsor, “not intended to influence your choice of genetic testing laboratory.”

It’s a wonderful send-up of some troubling potential conflicts of interest that may be brewing in the genetic counseling profession. Or is it?

The Science of Human Perfection

I’ve started a new page–it will stay in the header bar above–for my forthcoming book, The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine, due this summer from Yale University Press. The book is a history of the promises of genetic medicine, from the late 19th through the late 20th centuries. It shows how genetics went from being a backwater of agricultural science to the core of biomedicine. Eugenics, I find, was not a hindrance to genetics going medical, but the vehicle by which it went medical.

I’ve posted a link to the Preface, and will post news about it there as it comes in. Enjoy!

Dorkins Speaks!

After months of emails, instant messages, not-so-instant messages, and dammit-downright-slow messages attempting to get his attention, Genotopia has finally secured an interview with Dick Dorkins, the professional cynic, atheist, and genomics enthusiast. Genotopia readers first met Dorkins when he commented on the discovery of a gene for thalassophilia. Best known for his work with SPITTOON, the Society for the Prevention of Intelligent-design, Theology, or Other Nonsense, Dorkins is also an outspoken advocate for personal genomics, which he champions as the true path to spiritual enlightenment. In this first part of our interview, he tells about “Project Dick,” his effort to sequence his own genome, and the breakthrough technique that has made it possible.

 

GT: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us.

DD: Don’t be an ass. I’m just banging out ex cathedra ripostes in between doing things that matter.

GT: What matters?

DD: Well I do, for starters. But I’m not doing myself at the moment, if that’s what you’re implying.

GT: What are you doing then?

DD: If you must know, I’m looking at myself.

GT: In the mirror? Doesn’t that make it confusing to type?

DD: Don’t be an ass. Not my image. My self. My true self. My genome.

GT: Ah, your DNA sequence. But wait—your genome famously refused to be sequenced.

DD: That’s right, it did. But I kicked its nucleic butt and now it’s as docile as a retriever.

GT: How did you do that?

DD: Through a breakthrough technology called “nuclear sequencing.” Not as in the cell nucleus. As in Hiro-fucking-shima. You’ve heard of shotgun sequencing?

GT: Sure. Craig Venter’s technique of “blasting” the entire genome into smithereens of DNA, sequencing the fragments with high-powered automated sequencers, and stitching the pieces together using massive computing power. It’s how the Human Genome Project finished early.

DD: You’re not as dumb as you type. Well, as you know, I’ve formed a company to sequence my own genome. We call it “Project Dick.”

GT: Catchy. I like the ambiguity.

DD: I came up with it myself. Anyway, as you say, my genome was impervious to shotgun sequencing. It squinted down the barrel of Venter’s biggest ABI machine, tossed back its head and gave a bitter, defiant laugh: “Hahahaha.” There might even have been an evil “Bwa” at the beginning. We hit it with everything we had and when the smoke cleared my genome was still just sitting there smirking.

GT: Tough. What did you do?

DD: We invented machine-gun sequencing. But still, nothing. My genome wears kevlar nucleus armor. It drives an Armored Personnel Carrier. Not so surprising really, when you consider the individual it encodes. So this brilliant chap we’re collaborating with out at Stanfoo University, Will B. Rich, upped the ante, so to speak, and invented the atom bomb of DNA sequencing.

GT: How does it work?

DD: It literally destroys my DNA, atom by atom, and then reassembles it. The processing power this requires is staggering.

GT: My God.

DD: Not quite. Google.

GT: You hired Google to sequence your DNA?

DD: Hired? Don’t be an ass. Like God, Google is everywhere. We have written code that borrows computing cycles one at a time from every desktop and mobile device on the planet and uses them to assemble the sequence of my genome. In between the “A” and the question mark of your last question, your Android contributed one tiny piece of my genome. Your device is sequencing me. You are sequencing me.

GT: You’re welcome. So in a sense, Google already has all this information—about you, and, theoretically, anyone else—and you are simply tapping in and extracting it? Should we be concerned about this?

DD: Google knows. Google cares.

GT: Dick! What you’re suggesting is the exploitation for personal gain of a giant omniscient, omnipresent, celestial intelligence, privy to our every move and capable of probing into the deepest recesses of our genetic structure–and that moreover, it is in a sense voluntarily created by our desire for communication with our fellow man and our desire for really cool apps! Explain, please!

DD: Can’t. Later, at my leisure, I will try to explain it to you slowly. But it’s time for my cup of special Punjabi aceyjee tea. It has telomere-lengthening properties, don’t you know. So ciao for now.

(Check back later for Part II of our interview!)

 

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