Happy National DNA Day, everyone!
Established by Congress eight years ago, National DNA Day commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, and the discovery of DNA’s double helix by Watson and Crick in 1953. Beyond honoring historical achievements. It’s also an opportunity for students, teachers and the public to learn about genome research.
What will YOU do to observe DNA Day ? I’m planning on heading over to Netflix to rent “It’s Your Molecular Structure, Charlie Brown!” Then I will pick over the 3 billion base pairs in my own DNA. I’ll match the adenine with the thymine and the cytosine with the guanine and the salt with the pepper.
You know how you buy some strawberries and they all look pretty good until you find a nasty moldy one tucked away near the bottom of the box? I’ll be looking for my rotten cells, the lousy mutations that got me into this mess.
As someone who has cancer, celebrating DNA Day seems like joining the Iceberg Appreciation Society after the Titanic went down. We’ve learned a lot about our cellular building blocks, but there is still an enormous amount of work to be done.
WSJ contributor Matt Ridley noted in his review of “Here is a Human Being: The Dawn of Personal Genomics,” that with the exception of a handful of disorders, the predictive power of genetic sequences is fairly feeble at the moment. “Trying to predict someone’s life course from his genome may be like trying to understand ‘Hamlet’ from a list of the words it contains,” says Ridley. “The meaning comes from how those words are put together.”
Ridley notes that the cost of sequencing a human genome for the first time was about $3 billion. “It has now dropped below $10,000, and soon the price to have your entire genetic make-up deciphered will surely drop into the hundreds of dollars,” he predicts.
What will happen when we can all casually inspect our own cellular blueprints? Perhaps we will witness something similar to what happened in the 15th century when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type fueling the growth of the first practical printing presses. Gutenberg’s innovation is credited with reviving classical learning, thus sparking the Renaissance and a whole lot more:
“Printed religious texts put the word of God directly into the hands of lay readers,” writes Paul Gray in TIME magazine. “Such personal contacts helped fuel the Protestant Reformation.”
But for now, the chief beneficiary of National DNA Day would seem to be DDC, “the exclusive provider of DNA paternity testing for The Maury Show. ” Maury did his first “Who’s Your Daddy” show in 1998. Since then DDC has performed more than 3,000 tests for Maury and other TV shows including Judge Judy, Divorce Court, and Dr. Phil.
“DNA Day is a unique opportunity for genetic and genome professionals to discuss their own careers and daily lives with students and the public,” said Carla Easter, Ph.D., a science education specialist in NHGRI’s Education and Community Involvement Branch, which guides NHGRI’s National DNA Day outreach and partnership efforts. “It’s important that our researchers are accessible so students can be inspired and perhaps consider pursuing a career in genomic science or medicine. Even if students don’t choose to become researchers or health professionals, we want them to be aware of what this valuable science might mean for their own health.”
And remember kids, DNA can help you avoid a lot of Baby Mama Drama. Just ask Chico, star of a Maury segment entitled “The DNA Test Will Prove I Don’t Have 21 Kids!”
And as for you cancer patients out there, well, wait ’til next year…