Genealogists sometimes discover that a certain disease or condition “runs in their family”. Often, people choose to have their DNA tested because they have reason to be concerned about developing the disease that their relatives had. There is a more positive way to view DNA testing. It is referred to as “happy genetics” and it involves looking for signs of unexplained good health.
Those who have put together their medical family tree probably have a good idea of what types of diseases or conditions have affected their relatives and ancestors. This knowledge can lead people to have their own DNA tested in order to determine their risk for those diseases. It can be stressful waiting to hear about those results!
A couple might choose to have DNA testing done before they have children. This is useful for those who have reason to believe they might carry a gene that they don’t want their child to inherit. Again, we have a situation in which people are anxiously waiting to hear the results of their DNA test, and hoping for the best.
There is a different way to look at DNA testing. It has been referred to as “happy genetics”. The simplest way to explain it is to say that it works in reverse of how typical DNA tests do. Researchers do more than look for a gene that indicates a higher risk of a disease. Instead, they find those genes in people who are “unexpectedly healthy” and then try to find out why those people don’t have the disease their genes indicate they are likely to have.
The goal of “happy genetics” is to hopefully uncover information that can be used to help other people to stay healthy (despite their genes). Or, at the very least, to discover other genes that “cause” a person to be healthier than expected. Send your DNA to one of the “happy genetics” researchers, and you might learn that you have a genetic risk for something serious. At the same time, you might be among the few whose genes, and unexpectedly good health, could enable researchers find ways to help other, less healthy, people.
The Resilience Project is searching for “unexpected heroes”. They are seeking adults who have rare genetic changes that they would expect to cause severe illness in childhood. More specifically, they are seeking the tiny percentage of “resilient” people – those who have the genes but somehow stayed healthy.
It is kind of a “long shot”. Those gathering DNA for “happy genetics” are going to need tons of people to submit their DNA. Only a small number of the people who submit DNA will have the genetic qualifications the researchers are seeking. Even so, “happy genetics” could make people see genetic testing in a more positive light.
Image by Senorhorst Jahnsen on Flickr.
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