By Angela Nuñez
In the 1997 film “Gattaca,” Vincent Freeman (played by Ethan Hawke) is a man who has not been genetically engineered and is, therefore, considered part of an inferior social class. Today’s top story talks about how “in the next few years, for $1,000 or less, you’ll be able to have your entire personal genome sequenced, and the relevant genomic and medical data will fit on a thumb drive.” This remarkable step towards truly personalized medicine has many positive implications, including opening the door to “more intimate—and interactive—relationships among people, their doctors, and biopharmaceutical companies.” Another awesome benefit will be eventually shifting “from developing and testing new treatments in mice that we hope will translate to humans, to a point where we now have the ability to directly study humans and thereby match the therapies to humans.” No doubt the benefits of personal genome sequencing will be many and significant.
While genes determine much, they certainly do not determine everything, and in the midst of this exciting news, I hope we don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. In “Gattaca” Vincent experiences extreme prejudice and discrimination, especially when it comes to his dream of becoming an astronaut. Genetic makeup influences many things, but one should not, for example, dwell on their high chances of developing cancer because of a family history. With such history, precautions should be taken and conscious choices made, but obsessing over possible outcomes causes more stress than lowers one’s chances of developing certain diseases. Knowledge of one’s personal genetics will have its place, but it will be important to keep in mind that our daily choices, actions, and attitudes contribute to our health—or lack thereof—also.
Vincent shows exceptional resolve and optimism in the face of his challenges, duping a system that would otherwise hold him back from accomplishing his dreams. Vincent does make to it space, transcending his deficiencies through force of will and spirit. According to IMDb, a coda, cut from the final film, lists various people who have succeeded despite genetic deficiencies (and would be excluded in the modern society of Gattaca), such as Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln. As advances in genome sequencing continue, remember to keep the whole forest in view, to make smart choices about your health daily, and to aim for the stars no matter what your genes say about you.