This story in Science Now, a vehicle published by the AAAS for vulgarization of basic science, is a classic example of the hype surrounding gene sequencing and gene expression. To judge from this headline any reader would assume that the cure for Type 2 diabetes was simply to measure genes and gene expression. However when one reads the actual publication one discovers that the geneticist cured his diabetes by changing his lifestyle and didn’t even look at his “omics” while doing so. It`s a shame he didn`t report his omics during the lifestyle change because there would undoubtedly have been significant changes in gene expression only by changing the environment with no drugs. Such a demonstration might encourage other people to make those lifestyle changes before taking drugs knowing that there are signficant effects on the expression of genes. In a personal communication Dr. Snyder said that he has the data and will publish it later.
Before the days of genomics when I was reviewing grant applications, any application that proposed to blindly measure thousands of variables hoping to find something related to a disease or a macroscopic process was immediately rejected as a “fishing expedition”. But genomics is now big business. $Billions are being spent on it in the futile hope that a genetic silver bullet will be found for those diseases of self-destructive lifestyles that account for most of our morbidity and premature mortality. As Dr. Snyder has elegantly demonstrated, we need to first change lifestyles and then maybe worry about the genetics of whatever rare diseases remain.
The Future is your DNA?
“The future is your DNA.” Who was the PR type at McGill who came up with that slogan? As we see above, Dr. Snyder, geneticist extraordinaire, has clearly shown that his future is his lifestyle. Everyone is born with a fixed genome. There are very rare diseases that are purely genetic in cause but the diseases that maim and kill most of the world’s population are primarily environmental. Our genomes are optimized to permit reproductive success in an environment of scarcity and borderline starvation and are not and never will be optimized to an environment of unlimited addictive highly processed food, alcohol and other drugs. Any amount of “omics” will not change that basic fact. In addition, the genomics promoters gloss over the profound problem in trying to make a connection between a linear code and the three-dimensional organism produced from the code. The phenotype is the result of unfathomably complex, self-referrential signalling and, so except for some relatively rare diseases that can be linked to genetic errors, there is no direct connection of the genome to predilection to common diseases. That is why huge amounts of data must be collected and huge amounts of money spent to glean even a borderline connection. This is why a recent study published in Science by the AAAS, the same organization that publishes ScienceNow, mentioned above, concluded that “for 23 of the 24 diseases, the majority of individuals will receive negative test results, … [so] these negative test results will, in general, not be very informative, as the risk of developing 19 of the 24 diseases in those who test negative will still be, at minimum, 50 – 80% of that in the general population”. In other words common diseases are caused by environmental factors regardless of the genome. Your future is your lifestyle choices.
In the more than ten years since the human genome was sequenced there is zero evidence that anyone has lived any longer because of that effort, as intellectually satisfying as it was. In Western societies, what has significantly prolonged life in the last decade is reduction in cigarette smoking. But other legal addictions to prescription drugs, junk food and alcohol threaten to wipe out these gains. Dr. Levin pleads for gene sequencing to solve the mysteries of chronic diseases like atherosclerosis that causes heart attacks and most stokes. “Via genomics medicine will become a more personalized, predictive and preventative science.” Such talk makes for good politics and attracts huge expenditures from governments, such as the likes of Génome Québec. Governments hate having to tell the electorate to change those self-destructive lifestyles that are the proven cause of atherosclerosis and most cancers but love to be seen as pursuing superficially attractive but futile high-tech cures that will obviate the need to control those legal addictions to which the electorate is very attached.