In ancient times (and still today in many parts of the world) people consulted fortune tellers or astrologers to predict their future. In the modern scientific era, however, people have stopped consulting the stars in the heavens, and instead are beginning to consult the genes in their bodies as a way of predicting their future lives. An article in the New York Times, for example, talks about young adults who are choosing to take the test that will tell them whether or not they have the gene for Huntington’s Disease (HD)
Huntington’s disease is a rare neurodegenerative disorder that usually manifests itself in midlife and causes progressive loss of motor control, loss of intellectual faculties, emotional disturbance, and ultimately death. The most famous individual who has had Huntington’s Disease was the folk singer Woody Guthrie (see photo). A child who has a parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the gene, which means they will inevitably develop the disease.
The gene that causes HD sits on the short arm of chromosome number 4, where the letters of the genetic alphabet normally repeat C-A-G as many as 35 times in a row (C-A-G stands for the amino acids Cytocine, Adenine, and Guanine; these three amino acids along with thymine make up the alphabet of the DNA molecule). In people who will develop HD, however, there are more than 35 repeats. The more repeats there are past 35, the earlier the person will develop HD. A DNA test is available that will tell individuals whether they have the gene, and even when they are likely to develop the disease.
The New York Times article highlights a 23 year old female named Katharine Moser who chose to take the test. Ms. Moser discovered that she has the gene with 45 C-A-G repeats, which corresponds to an ontset age of 37. One of the reasons she took the test was to know early in her adulthood how to plan for her future life. Before she took the test, she made two lists of life goals – one list if she didn’t have the gene (marriage, children, Ireland), and one list if she did (exercise, vitamins, and ballroom dancing). Opening a bed-and- breakfast made both lists.
One has to admire Katharine Moser’s courage for being willing to find out about her future. Many young adults thoughtlessly drink, carouse, abuse their bodies, and give little thought to their later development. While she has, as she pointed out, only 12 years left according to the test, it’s likely that these years will be fuller and richer than many individuals who will live far longer. Kudos! Blessings! And also hope that a cure will be found during that time!