I’m getting a DNA test because I’m terrified my kids will be ginger
Well, that’s one reason
What makes us who we are? Is it nature or nurture?
Many people answer these questions of identity by talking about genetics: we are our DNA, they say.
But do we really know our own DNA? People often say things like “It’s in my genes”, without any evidence whatsoever.
They just see a part of their personality, perhaps a strength or a flaw, and automatically trace it back to their genetic heritage. “I’m fat because of my genes. My mum’s fat, my dad’s fat, my nan’s fat. I was always going to be fat: it’s in my DNA.” Is it in your DNA? Or is it in all that cake DNA you stuff down your throat?
Of course, we have no way of knowing. DNA tests have been a luxury reserved for Britain’s rapists and the cast of freaks wheeled out on the Jeremy Kyle show.
The rest of us must resort to guess work. Not any longer though. DNA tests have become easily commercially available and this week I took one.
The process is pretty simple. I was sent this in the post:
All I had to do was spit in it and send it back. They’ll analyse my saliva in the lab and send me the results.
There’s a lot to worry about with having a DNA test. I’m not sure I want to know about every gene in my body.
They’re mapping the human genome at the moment. What if, in a decade or so, they isolate the “twat gene” and I find out I’ve got it?
Then I might be sent off to some sort of “twat camp” where I’m forced to do hard labour and write apology letters to everybody I’ve been a twat to, as a way of making it up to society.
That’s the problem with knowing your genes, they’re open to value judgments, and if you fall on the wrong side of them you’re suddenly the enemy.
For example, part of the DNA test will work out whether I carry the gene for being ginger.
I’m obviously not ginger, but genes come in pairs, and I could be carrying the ginger gene and not know because it’s recessive.
I’d be like a ginger Trojan Horse. But if we know who’s “carrying” the ginger gene, they might become ostracized from the dating world by hair racists who don’t want a ginger kid.
Sounds mad, but it could happen. You can imagine the conversations: “Look, I’m sorry but I’ve got a holiday home in Spain and I don’t want to spend all day making sure the little prick doesn’t burn”.
How long before dating websites insist you not only include an account of your hobbies, but also your entire genetic map? How long is it before at job interviews, as well as being grilled on your CV, you also have to give a saliva swab? How long before having great genes becomes a financial opportunity, with men literally put out to stud?
Sounds ridiculous but it already happens in the horse racing world. The legendary race horse Frankel gets rented out at a hundred grand a shag.
Obviously, it will only have sex with another horse. You can’t get it to mate with your Labrador to create a super-dog.
But if there’s that sort of money available for equine jizz, it can surely be a matter of time before humans get involved.
Imagine the scene. A wealthy oil sheikh somewhere in the Middle-East decides he wants a child.
But he doesn’t want any old child. He wants a child who can run like the wind. So he rings up Usain Bolt. “Wha gwan Usain”, he says, “It’s Mahmood. Look, bit of a weird one mate, but how would you feel about flying over here and knobbing my missus? There’s 20 million big ones in it for you”. 9 months later Mahmood’s wife is giving birth. 20 years later Mahmood’s son is the first man from the Arab world to win Olympic gold.
This might sound like an absurd dystopian vision. But that scenario is not as silly as you think.
The London Sperm Bank has been running adverts on the Tube using the tagline “Find Your Perfect Match”.
They offer women the opportunity to choose sperm according to the biography of the donor. Customers may choose between the sperm of an actor, or a lawyer, or a doctor (and so on).
This is as stupid as it is morally dubious. It’s morally questionable because the offer tacitly suggests that the life of a doctor (say) is more desirable and therefore worth more.
And it is ridiculous because to suggest that the sperm of a doctor will lead your subsequent son or daughter to become a GP is plain dumb.
Nature may bestow certain genetic gifts, but it is surely nurture which shapes them and decides in what way they are manifested. We are not just our genes.
We are what we can conceive of doing. We are the ideas planted under pillows by the people we love.
We are a collaboration of our dreams and memories, constantly acted on by the world, shifting our direction of travel in light of new experience.
So why am I having a DNA test? I think the story of my ancestors past may help me make sense of my present.
And failing that, I should at least have an idea of how much my spunk is worth. Next week I’ll reveal my results.