Lone Frank: Find out what makes you tick
Genetic tests can offer deep insights into your future health. But would you really want to know?
By Catherine de Lange
Danish writer Lone Frank trained as a research scientist in biotechnology before becoming an award-wining science journalist. In her latest book, My Beautiful Genome, she turns her science on herself by embracing the latest developments in personal genomics to find out what these tests can tell us about ourselves and whether it’s a good idea to take them. She is the only female writer to have been shortlisted for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.
Why did you decide to investigate your own genome?
Genomics used to be like computers; for experts only. It was expensive. Nobody thought it would ever get out among the public. I heard about these first genome scans in 2008 and thought: this is momentous – now we can all get our own genetic information. We are at the beginning of a revolution where we can’t really see where it’s going, so I wanted to try it out for myself and see what it’s like.
What tests did you do?
I took tests that looked into my deep ancestry. I also had a genome scan where you can test variants that we know have to do with disease risks. You get a glimpse of what you could pass on to your children and also what diseases you might end up getting. I was tested for common breast cancer genes and also certain genes that are related to our psychological makeup.
Was there anything you were hoping to discover or that you were worried about?
I was really worried about the breast cancer genes, the BRCA genes, because my mother and grandmother both died of breast cancer very early. I had always assumed that I probably have them. They convey up to 80% chance of getting breast cancer: they are the genes that make women get their breasts removed preemptively, so I was really worried. I was also interested in behaviour genetics and depression, and what we know about how genes will help to determine our psychology.
Do tests that link personality and genetics lead to an overly deterministic view of – it’s not my fault, it’s in my genes?
One big message in the book is that genetic determinism is off. There is no geneticist out there who believes in genetic determinism or argues that it exists. Our genes are not our destiny. They are a hand of cards that we’re dealt and we can play them differently. How we live our lives will impact on our genes and how our genes are expressed – some will be switched on, some will be switched off. Our lives matter and it’s extremely important to get away from the false belief of genetic determinism…Read more