Going to college is always a test of who you are, but never more literally so than it will be next fall. Freshmen in the College of Letters and Science will have the opportunity to find out what they’re made of — genetically speaking — courtesy of the College’s “On the Same Page” program. Until now, the program asked new students to read a new book or watch a film that would give them something to talk about for the rest of the year. This time, On the Same Page takes a bold step in a different direction to explore one of the most exciting, cutting-edge areas of modern science: personalized medicine. What’s more, it will give students a rare chance to experience it on their own.
The welcoming package for incoming students will contain what might look like an absurdly simple and low-tech gadget: a cotton swab. Those who choose to use it, however, will send it back anonymously with a tiny sample of DNA off the inside of their cheeks. The resulting personal genetic analysis will unlock mysteries hidden in three of their genes.
"Understanding the impact of the variation in each of our genomes is the defining challenge for human biology for this century," said Professor Jasper Rine, who is leading the program and will present a special lecture on September 13 in Wheeler Auditorium. Rine is the Howard Hughes Professor and Professor of Genetics, Genomics and Development.The genetic analysis to be performed as part of the program will unveil information about three non-threatening genetic factors affecting our health: the ability to absorb folic acid, to tolerate alcohol, and to metabolize lactose. These particular genes were chosen because the health issues they control are all amenable to easy solutions should any of the tests come back positive. The knowledge thus gained can serve to arm students with information to improve their health and wellbeing. . . . . . .