Why 23andMe can't tell you everything about yourself (yet)




Let me get this straight: Richard Dawkins is a biologist. Scratch that, he’s an evolutionary biologist.

David Dobbs is a writer. Mind you, he’s a writer who writes about science.

I say we wait a few years, maybe a decade or two. Then see who’s right.


Dobbs grossly overstates the fraction of the human genome that is shared with other species. Only about half of the human genome can be aligned to the dog genome, so 80% shared with cows is very likely wrong. 60% shared with fruit flies and chickens is grossly wrong, since only 3% of the human genome can be aligned to the chicken genome. 99% with chimps? Wrong again. It’s 96% at best (98% identical base-per-base over 98% of the human genome), and that’s only if you ignore differences like large-scale inversions.


and by that fallacious logic (appeal to authority) I guess a blog commenter has even less reason to be taken seriously. Me personally, I’m behind it. It explains why I find myself mooing everytime I go into a field of cows. And secreting milk.


Ah. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Darwin may have written a book about evolution but the did not understand about genes. Genes did not make Darwin wholly wrong, but it did add to the picture. We are able to map genes, and as a result we get to see that the grasshopper and the locust are very similar. People appreciated that there were other potential processes that act alongside straight genetics, but the newer technologies allow us to track the genes, and show which ones are the same and which are not. That does not make Dawkins wholly wrong, but it adds to the picture too

There are many cases where a species has divided into a ‘gracile’ form adapted for running away, and a ‘robust’ form adapted for standing and fighting. If you were in a community where people ran from danger rather than fighting, then grandchildren who could run fast would be preferred; if you were in a community where you had to stand your ground or be thought a coward, then the best fighters would be preferred, and the people who could only run fast would not. Whether to fight or flee may be a social tradition meme to start with, and later get backed up by genes after generations of selection. I am pretty sure Dawkins understood that back when we wrote “The Selfish Gene”.

But that’s just plain dull, and the tabloids want “Evolution disproved!” and “Scientists are Baffled!”, and stories of conflict and struggle, and a straight description of the slow progress of Science is too dull for most readers, so writers feel compelled to spice things up a bit.


That was an excellent read…thanks, Maggie!


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