Sounds Good Explores the Concept of Genetic Destiny
"For quite a bit of time after DNA was discovered and we started understanding the genome, we thought most of it was junk." Michael Bordieri, Murray State professor of psychology, visits Sounds Good to discuss common misconceptions of genetics and what recent discoveries mean for the future of mental health and medicine.
Initial research of our bodies' genetic make-up provided relatively minimal information. Michael Bordieri, MSU psychology professor, explains that 'junk genes' was a common term to describe human genomes, and "an early [scientific] estimate said that about 90% of the genome didn't do anything at all." While certain genes could be isolated and manipulated, such as the gene for male pattern baldness, other less identifiable genes were assumed to serve no noteable purpose. Scientists interested in challenging this assumed status quo dug into these 'junk genomes,' and found that there was quite a bit more going on than originally thought.
Scientists discovered that a large portion of genomes are in charge of gene regulation, which means certain genes are designed specifically to manage the genetic expression of other genomes. "It's especially important when we try to understand mental illness," Bordieri says. "There's been a lot of sort of false hope that we could identify 'the' gene for depression or 'the' gene for schizophrenia. [But] almost all psychological disorders, almost all human disorders in general, are polygenetic, or multiple genes working together."
This discovery of polygenetic disorders and intergenetic regulation serves as a silver lining to the future of mental health. "An exciting thing from a treatment perspective or a prevention perspective," Bordieri explains, "is that, you know, genes are not the whole story. It's the interaction between them and the environment."
Both genetics and environment play fundamental roles in our development and overall health. A bad family history does not, however, necessarily mean a future of your own health bills or ailments. "The good news is that it isn't the case that if you have this gene, you get the disorder. In other words," Bordieri says, "genes are not our destiny."