ABNORMAL

Shai

Shai was the Egyptian God of Destiny. S/he (the god had both male and female incarnations) decided the length of someone's life, and the manner of their death.

In the early 21st century, people in the developed world have become obsessed with the idea that genetic profiling can tell us how long we are likely to live and how we are likely to die. Tests are now being offered over the internet that claim to be able to tell us about our susceptibility to a growing number of illnesses. The information contained in a micro-tube is believed to be able to tell us our destiny.

In contrast, scientists themselves know that life is never this simple. For example, hundreds of genes have already been identified that are linked to cancer; there is no one 'cancer gene'. And simply carrying a gene does not mean that it will be activated; cases where one of identical twins develops a genetic illness and the other does not teaches us that many other, uncontrollable factors come into play too.

But even if we understood and could control all of these factors - which would be impossible - we could still be hit by a bus tomorrow. We can never really know our fate.

***

For medical research scientists, micro-tubes are everyday objects. Many laboratories use hundreds of these disposable objects every week. Just occasionally, the findings they make from them can be life- and career-changing; mostly, they are not. The everyday work of medical research scientists is fiddly, exacting, repetitive and often frustrating; however, there is always the chance of a breakthrough and a genuine advance in human knowledge. In one sense, then, the contents of a micro-tube can determine a scientist's destiny.

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© Ju Gosling aka ju90 2008

Funded by the
wellcome trust

 


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