What Does Christmas Have To Do With Genomics?
Do you have the feeling that genomics is all around this year and you cannot escape DNAs, SNPs, chromosomes and double spirals wherever you look? Do you suspect that even Billy Mack is considering a change to “Genes are all around you” in everyone’s favorite holiday movie, Love Actually? Well, that won’t be a surprise as Christmas and genetics have more in common than you think – and scientists are even working on figuring out Santa’s genetic make-up.
Gene-edited Christmas trees and Santa’s DNA
If it’s all in our genes, the explanation for the Grinch hating the holidays or Santa’s incredible working capacity around the end of December must have its roots in their DNA. Researchers armored with the latest advances in genome sequencing managed to get their hands on tiny samples from Santa, and carefully analyzed what makes him able to carry millions of gifts on a reindeer sleigh or to decide which kid was naughty or nice. Experts found that the red-hatted Ho-ho-ho-sayer has a similar genetic makeup to everyone else, except the 3 extra chromosomes – known as Trisomy 25 – (for the 25th of December). A generously sized turkey, a holly leaf and a Christmas fairy – these unusually shaped chromosomes are in large part responsible for Santa’s unique DNA make-up and his power known as ‘Christmas magic’.
However, if you think that knowing Santa’s genetic makeup is just an arbitrary fun fact and you are fretting about British scientists not having anything better to do, we are telling you that knowing the secrets of your genes could actually make your holidays better.
For starters, let’s look at the Christmas tree. The end of the holidays is usually marked by three things: the beginning of the January treadmill, running out of food – and the dead needles of the pines all over the apartment. It’s a devastating sight – especially if it happens three days after the purchase of the tree. That’s why scientists are mapping out how the pines, especially the most popular one, the Fraser fir, will remain green as long as possible or which genes are responsible for the fast fall of needles. They aim to determine the genetic sequences of trees that code for ideal traits and find markers for these sequences so they can be further studied, and eventually genetically edited.
Perfect food for everyone’s taste
If you already have a nicely decorated, truly evergreen pine, let’s just concentrate on the Christmas dinner. That’s the pain-point of every family with three children, four grandparents, three uncles, six cousins and a dog named Marvin – well, of course, before losing Kevin at the airport as the family heads for a vacation in Paris. But for now, let’s just focus on the dinner. Wouldn’t it be better to know whom you should definitely serve some coffee to keep them awake until the end of the five courses or who should avoid alcohol at any cost – so that the entire table could spare the fights around politics? Some families gather this social knowledge for years – although, in theory, all you really need is a genetic test and the advances of nutrigenomics.
The scientific field combining genetics with food science looks at your genetic makeup and how it affects the way your body processes food. It’s about how your unique biology interacts with the food you consume. It is the answer to why some people cannot drink coffee after 6 pm otherwise they cannot sleep; and why others might have some double espresso at 11 pm and snooze as if nothing happened around midnight. The same about alcohol: some might metabolize it faster and more efficiently than others, so they can drink more and have less painful hangovers (yes, I hate them, too).
Now, imagine that your entire extended family had a genetic test – and you, the host of the family Christmas dinner, know exactly beforehand what you should and shouldn’t serve to every one of your guests. Wouldn’t that be a recipe for relaxed holidays?
If holidays cause you a headache, find the right painkiller
So, you tried nutrigenomics, but there are still huge fights at the table. What’s worse, your headaches are getting more and more intolerable. Maybe you should take a U-turn and concentrate on your own well-being instead of the family. What painkillers do you choose? Are you sure they are working? You know that you can have a pharmacogenomic test to figure out which is the best for you, right?
Pharmacogenomics generally argues that despite general sentiments, medications do not have the same effect on people. Everyone has a unique response to drugs due to the genetic code. The scientific field is a promising area for improving drug therapy and prescriptions in the future.
The Medical Futurist already has some pharmacogenomic experience: when I had the myDNA Medication test, it found that if I have to take Codeine (an opiate used to treat pain); fluvoxamine (used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder); or simvastatin (used to lower cholesterol), I will have major side effects from cardiomyopathy to liver problems. Besides, my Dante Labs whole genome sequencing report also contains valuable information about drug metabolization and recommendations for which medication to take. In a couple of years, it might not be strange to ask the doctor for painkillers against a migraine entirely personalized based on your genes. But let’s go back to the holidays.
Self-knowledge as Christmas present
Do you think it’s too late to figure out all the genetic reasons for your family’s or your own behavior before the Christmas dinner? Maybe the best would be to order a genetic test as a Christmas gift, so you at least won’t have these problems next year.
What could be a better gift to your family members or yourself, for that matter, than a journey to the innermost secrets of your DNA? No matter whether you want to know more about your ancestors – whether you are a distant relative of George Washington, for example, or you want to have a clearer overview of how you process food or drugs, there are plenty of direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies to turn to. Here, The Medical Futurist team even compiled a database with the most useful information about the genetic tests and the companies themselves.
Don’t panic even if you are the early adopter who already had their ancestry test and ordered the whole genome sequencing kit. For you, we have a unique idea for the holidays. What if you let your genetic make-up turn into art? How fancy would it be to decorate your office wall with your chromosomes? Just check out DNA11, create art from genetics and have a great holiday season everyone!
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