The  genetics of economics and economics of genetics are really freaky topics.

On the one hand, we spend most of our lives making economic decisions … how to spend time? money? affection? You know, “He’s cute, but has a lame job” and, “I feel like I’m getting a better deal at Five Guys because they give away the peanuts for free.” Genetic research seems to be “worth it” because variation in genetic data might underpin variation in economic behavior (particularly in the healthcare marketplace).

On the other hand, genetic data seems to have little or no economic face value. I mean, they are practically giving the data away at $100 for your SNP-ome and $1,000 for your full genome.

So it seems that consumers are now part of an experiment where they may freely access their personal genetic information and try to figure out how to use it in some sort of economically advantageous way. Meanwhile scientists can (with consent) meta-analytically track the genotypes of these consumers and discover what genotypes are associated with good economic decisions. It’s freaky. It’s fascinating. It’s big data. Whatever.

The downside to “consumer as guinea pig” is that the free marketplace is full of liars and exploiters, and will soon be awash in every sort of hokey “geno-” this and “geno-” and “g’s” fused with all sorts of words that begin with “en”. I mean, have you ever not been paralyzed in the salad dressing aisle? Do we really need “specially formulated for rs1234567 AA” geno-dressings?

Which is why I really think anyone who describes himself as a genoeconomist and founder of a gentrepreneurship consortium, really needs to take it down a couple of notches. This type of self-branding is what the liars and exploiters do.

Hundreds of millions of people are desperately looking for work. The liars and exploiters have wrecked the global economy for decades to come. People are suffering. The publication of meta-analytic studies that show that self-employment, while somewhat heritable, is a complex polygenic trait (um, no shit) feels to me like an insensitive slap in the face to people who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

Rant over.


American Omic


… except for the genes that allow us to totally reset our expectations about social rejection.

Thank you Jia Jiang for helping me to take everything I had learned about the psychology, neurobiology and genetics of social rejection and rejection sensitivity … and throw it in the garbage.

Apparently the best part of having a human brain is that we have the biological predisposition to transcend our own biological predispositions.


The “T” allele of rs1378810 in your DNAJC13 gene has been associated with a slight benefit (less than 0.4% variance) in general cognitive ability. You can check your 23andMe profile.*  What? You’re a TT? Ooooh … nobody is impressed. But let’s not make light of our DNAJ genes just yet.

Consider the critical role of DNAJC5, a so-called cysteine-string protein (because it encodes a protein with an array of cysteine residues). This protein helps synaptic vesicles fuse and un-fuse so that your neurons can release and re-cycle tiny packets of neurotransmitters – which is how neurons send signals to one another. Yeah, vesicle fusion is really important … and is happening like a quadriillion times right now in your brain.

Mutations in the cysteine string of DNAJC5 have been associated with Huntington’s disease.

[artwork credit]

*Interpreting 23andMe data here can be confusing because 23andMe lists an A or T as possible alleles but one isn’t always sure which strand the research literature refers to and if that strand is the same strand that 23andMe is reading from. Luckily SNPedia points out that an rs1378810 TT is in tight linkage disequilibrium with rs2133692 TT (T or C alleles) so you can check this genotype on 23andMe to infer your rs1378810 genotype. My 23andMe profile says AA at rs1378810 and TT at rs2133692, so I think I have the slightly beneficial TT genotype … but I’m really not sure. Confused? Me too. But like the research suggests, this genotype really doesn’t add much to one’s general cognitive ability.

Meme genes: ALBA


Mo’ Jessica ALBA, mo’ muscle? Actually no. “Serum albumin demonstrated modest and inconsistent trends with loss of muscle mass and function. Low serum albumin within the normal range is not a risk factor for this process among elderly men.” More on your ALBA gene here.

Head injury is a topic of much concern among football players from ages 8-80. My 7 and 9-year old sons have started playing football (tackling in our town starts at age 8) and so I was eager to see the new documentary film The United States of Football that tracks an ongoing discussion of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) among current & former NFL players as well as NFL league officials and youth football coaches. It is a frightening topic, but I am grateful to the filmmakers for informing me about this very serious issue.

In the days since viewing the film, my sons and I have been talking about what it feels like to get a “ding” and, if they experience white flashes of light, why it is important for them to notify the coach and me so that they can sit out for the rest of the game. We also have been practicing proper heads up tackling technique and the importance of NOT hitting another child in the head. Given that they are typical rambunctious young fellows, who, if not padded up on the football field, are climbing (and falling from) trees, riding (and crashing) bikes or playing chase (and colliding with other kids) in our neighborhood, we feel that their relative risk of serious head injury on the youth football field is acceptable.

I also checked my 23andMe results for my Apolipoprotein E4 genotype status. Luckily it is negative. I checked my genotype because there is some evidence that this one particular genotype is associated with the development of CTE.

The development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy has also been linked to the ε4 genotype. Having the same Apolipoprotein E ε4 genotype also predisposes the individual to incurring significantly more severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy compared to those without the ε4 genotype, given the same degree of chronic TBI.

My wife still needs to upgrade to the new 23andMe genotyping platform to get her E4 status. If she is positive, our plan is to have both of our children tested and, if they are carriers, we will discourage them from playing any sports where head injury is common. Conversely, we also understand that a negative Apolipoprtein E4 status is not a green light for head bashing.

Regardless of genotype, the plan is to carefully monitor how much “contact” they are experiencing (estimated about 700 hits per season in high school), and be quick to protectively withdraw them if it becomes too intense (about 1 “ding” per 250 hits for adults). Helmet sensors (linear accelerometers)? Perhaps not (an ideal system should measure both linear and rotational acceleration).

Football fans? Yes. But reading books, creative writing, drawing, playing music … and playing sports for fun … shall remain the low-impact mainstay of their childhood.