James B. Watson, the genetics pioneer, is the first individual in the history of the universe to have his DNA completely sequenced. In a statement that testifies to his infectious enthusiasm for nerd science (for which, if you’ve had a conversation with him, you know that Watson is obviously genetically endowed), Jim was “thrilled to see my genome!”
Dr. Watson now stands with his pants down, naked to the world, DNA-wise, in every way but one. His figleaf?! He asked that his apolipoprotein E gene, which (with substantial variance) predicts one’s susceptibility to the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease be kept a secret. Watson didn’t want to know — nor did he want anyone else to know — if he had any special susceptibility to AD.
Actually, you can take a simple blood test that will inform you about the status of this gene. With that test, you can know if AD is likely to strike early or later or maybe never. A biotechnology company largely founded on the basis of providing this test went out of business, perhaps because, like Jim Watson, not very many people want to know when AD shall show up as a very unwelcome visitor at their door
On the other hand, as we develop better and better strategies to maintain brain health and delay AD onset, our paranoia about this should abate a little: KNOWING that an individual is susceptible to an earlier onset can be a GOOD thing, when there is something positive to be DONE about it. At our present state of understanding of AD onset, it should certainly inspire an individual to get his or her butt down to the Brain Fitness Center!