A Primer on What’s In Your Genes?

Writing clearly about something complicated like genetics isn’t easy, and doing it with a little humor is harder still. But that’s just what the author and illustrator Katie McKissick, does consistently in her neat little book called “What’s in Your Genes?”whatsinyourgenes

Known by her nom de plume, Beatrice the Biologist, Katie’s blog Symbiartic is also a consistent go-to resource for what’s interesting in science.

Her book hits a sweet spot for us here at 23andMe, where we’re constantly trying to figure out the best way to communicate complicated science. Katie breaks down the As,Cs,Ts and Gs of DNA and puts them into a readable and informative primer on genetics. She’s also pretty enamored in making fun visuals, which are sprinkled generously throughout the book. (Here’s her list of favorite science comics.) Put together this all makes for both easy to understand and fun reading. In the book Katie covers a lot, from traits and disease to sequencing. And she does it with flair.

People generally understand how critical their own genetic information is in managing their health, but polls show that in general people are about fuzzy about the details of the sciences, so knowing the basics is important. A lot still could be done to improve the level of genetic literacy. This book goes a long way at explaining the basics but also some pretty important topics like the ethical issues around genetic testing, legal questions around patenting of genes and the future of genetic research.

Katie also embraces the fun and wonder of genetic science, from showing you how to count the taste buds on a small section of your tongue to figure out if you’re a “supertaster” to the “symphony” of genetic variants that influence your height, intelligence and personality.

“Let’s put it this way,” Katie writes in a section explaining the differences between nature and nurture in influencing your intelligence and personality. “DNA may predict what you can do, but not what you will do.”

And to bring it home she quotes Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series, when he tells Harry:

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”