Can You Pass the (Deoxyribonucleic) Acid Test?

kiraPFor just $99, genetic test company 23andme offered to test your DNA for everything from heart disease risk to your chance of going bald. Kira Peikoff wondered what DNA testing from 23andme and two other companies would tell her—and the results were surprising. We’ll also talk to geneticist Dr. David Ng. His story in McSweeny’s, “Congratulations, Your Ineffectual Genetic Test Results Have Arrived” pokes fun at the “direct-to-consumer” genetic testing industry. Then Dr. Stuart Newman fills us in on epigenetics, evolutionary developmental biology, and why the Lamarck  versus Darwin debate may be old news. Finally, advocate Pete Shanks on the “promise” of GMO humans and the threat of techno-eugenics.

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Kira Peikoff is an author and Masters student in bioethics at Columbia University. Her New York Times article in December exposed the fallacies of direct-to-consumer genetic testing (see more resources on genetic test companies below). Check out her debut novel Living Proof (and look for her upcoming 2nd novel in the fall) on her website.

David Ng is a geneticist, science educator, and the Director of the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (AMBL) at The University of British Columbia. His piece, “Congratulations! Your Ineffectual Genetic Test Results Have Arrived!” is on McSweeny’s, and you can see much more of his writing and other work on his Tumblr ThisisHowITalkScience (also be sure to see his paper on “supergenes” in the Incredible Hulk).

Stuart Newman is a Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy and the New York Medical College, and was a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics. You can find many of his papers on genetics and society on his website.

Pete Shanks is the author of Human Genetic Engineering: A Guide for Activists, Skeptics and the Very Perplexed. Pete also writes regularly for Biopolitical Times, the blog of the Center for Genetics and Society.

More resources and links on the archives page.

Can You Pass the (Deoxyribonucleaic) Acid Test?

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Some say our genes are our destiny. But what if our biological inheritance is more than just genes? Hear what this means for genetic testing, and our understanding of the basic concepts of genetics, disease and health.

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Episode 9 Promo – DNA Testing

acid_test.jpgSome say our genes are our destiny. But what if our biological inheritance is more than just genes? What does this mean for genetic testing, and our understanding of the basic concepts of genetics, disease and health?

We talk to Kira Peikoff – she had her DNA analyzed by three companies that offer direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and she got back three very different results. Then Dr. David Ng talks about “Genetic Tests for Realz,” and we talk to Dr. Stuart Newman about Darwin, Lamarck, and the strange new science of epigenetics and evolutionary developmental biology. Finally, activist and author Pete Shanks fills us in on the feud between the Food and Drug Administration and genetic testing company 23andme.

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Satire and Activism, With Harry Shearer (Part 1)

le-show-with-harry-shearerYou know Harry Shearer from Spinal Tap, the Simpsons, movies, TV and his weekly radio show Le Show. Paul Krassner hung out with Abbie Hoffman, Ken Kesey, and Lenny Bruce. Negin Farsad tells us about The Muslims Are Coming, and Brian Janosch talks about working with Baratunde Thurston at Cultivated Wit.

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See links and resources on our episodes archives page.

Episode 8 Promo – Satire and Activism, with Harry Shearer!

le_showHARRYComing in January, a special episode of Before You Leap. Can satire change the world? Four of the funniest satirists today share their views on comedy and social justice. We speak to Negin Farsad of The Muslims are Coming, Brian Janosch of Cultivated Wit, and legendary satirist and founder of The Realist Paul Krassner. We also speak to Harry Shearer — you know him from Spinal Tap, The Simpsons, his many movies (including several with Christopher Guest) — and you may also know him from his 30 years of doing radio satire on Le Show.

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Breasts: A Bellwether of Health

We fetishize breasts, but how much do we know about them? On this episode,  we’ll talk about breasts, breast cancer, and why we should look at rising ra687191-florence-williamstes of breast cancer and other changes in breast health as a signal for all human health. With Florence Williams, author of Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, Ted Schettler, author of the Ecology of Breast Cancer, and Connie Engel of the Breast Cancer Fund.

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Florence Williams writes about science, health and the environment. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside Magazine, Slate and many other publications. Ted Schettler is Science Director for the Science and Environmental Health Network. His new book, The Ecology of Breast Cancer: The promise of prevention and the hope for healing, can be downloaded here. We also talk with Connie Engel of the Breast Cancer Fund, who gives tips for healthier living and ways to get involved in the movement for breast cancer prevention.

More links and resources on our episodes page.

Episode 7 Promo – Breasts: A Bellwether of Health

breastsOur culture is fixated on breasts, so why do we know so little about them? Breasts may be the most observed and least studied body part, yet today troubling changes in breast health may be mirroring changes in the environment that are impacting all human health. In this episode we speak to Florence Williams, author of Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, which uncovers recent developments in breast science and the relationships between environmental toxins and their impact on breastfeeding, breast cancer, and more. We also speak to Connie Engel of the Breast Cancer Fund, and to Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network, about his new book, The Ecology of Breast Cancer.

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Poisons By The Dose

arsenic soapFrom Arsenic and Old Lace to arsenic in rice, mercury making hatters mad to mercury used today in skin creams, some poisons just won’t go away. In this episode we talk about chemicals that threaten our health, often even at very low doses.

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Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist and author of several books that look at the intersections between science and society. We talked about her 2010 book The Poisoner’s Handbook, which uncovers the birth of modern forensic toxicology and features two crusading public servants in the New York City medical examiner’s office in the 1930’s. The two men, Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, pioneered forensic science and advocated for public health reforms that were far ahead of the times. We also speak to scientist Pete Myers of Environmental Health Sciences about the health threats from low-dose exposures to chemicals that can alter and disrupt our bodies’ natural hormones.

More links and resources on our episodes page.

Episode 6 Promo – Poisons by the Dose

PoisHbComing soon! We hear from Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist Deborah Blum, on her book The Poisoner’s Handbook, which uncovers the little-known history of the birth of modern forensic science pioneered by two men who took over the New York City medical examiner’s office in the early 20th century. Deborah also gives us a sneak preview of her forthcoming book on the history of food poisonings and food safety regulations. And we hear from a special guest, a scientist whose work focuses on exposure to low-doses of chemicals that can alter and disrupt our bodies’ natural hormones.

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