Monthly Archives: December 2011

Book review: “My Beautiful Genome” by Lone Frank

After the keenly observed industry watching of Kevin Davies book “The $1000 Genome”, I decided to get a more consumerist view of DTC genetic testing and what it means at a more personal level.

The books blurb suggests it is “Sharp and funny”, but at its heart this is a biographical tale of whether it’s genetics or environment that makes you who you are. Steering clear of the medical interventionism tub-thumping, it’s more a tale of whether there is satisfaction to be gained, or insights had into your mental makeup via genetics.

The best thing I can say about this book, is that it is the reason I sent my sample off to 23andMe to be analysed. It no longer seemed sensible for me to hold out against the imperative to learn more about myself. Maybe that’s a valuable enough output.

The writing is conversational, but for me, the book is at it’s best when the sources in it are quoted verbatim. And there are many. I found myself poring over these more avidly than the rest of the text. I can’t say the humour came through for me, it’s a little dark in places, and not being a reader of biographies, maybe I wasn’t prepared for the ┬áconfessional content.

Lone Frank is lucky though, as the book goes far beyond what you or I might be able to order for a couple of hundred dollars, or more, in terms of online testing. She manages to wheedle access to far more diagnostic and actionable tests than I suspect we could manage. Not to mention enviable access to genomics pioneers, including Watson himself.

There is coverage of the ‘deep geneaology’ which I imagine is going to drive a lot of people towards personal genomics as an extension of their compulsive rifling through parish records, and a way to get a handle on family trees when the paper trails run cold.

There is much less of a focus on the underlying technology, it is the testing landscape is what is explored here, from making sure Jewish couples have healthy babies, to the genetic snake-oil of love matching via your genes (or HLA subtypes).

The second half of the book is really where the behavioural strand beds in. There’s plenty of talk of discoveries that have graced the tabloid press – “infidelity genes” and the like. To be fair, the science is well explained, and definitely layman accessible, but perhaps there is too much of the popularist and speculative bent in the later chapters. And I think the intersection of psychology and genetics is perhaps not quite advanced enough yet to stand up to much scruitiny. At least, not how it is presented here (it is not my field or forte!).

This segues into a necessary, and even discussion on modern eugenics practice, and a timely reminder that it may still be a dirty word, but it continues unabated – now just in the hands of parents and not governments.

On the whole this is a book I’d give to someone outside of work to kind of explain the field I’m in. I don’t regret spending the money on the book, or the time I invested in reading it (it didn’t take long compared to my last read!), but perhaps aimed at a more general readership unless you’re interested in the biographical ramifications of having your DNA tested, maybe not one for the bookshelf, what was a chapter of “The $1000 Genome” is spread across 300 pages here.