By Masha Gessen
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Additional info for Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene
Then I was born. Now I have grown and become a girl. ” The calm simplicity of that story pleased me, but I worried now about what I had passed on. My overconfidence about my own hereditary fortune affected my daughter too: When I gave her my mother’s name, I was certain she would take only the best. Women who know they have a cancer-gene mutation are, I have discovered, rarely so cavalier. I have talked to young women who would rather adopt a child with an entirely unknown health history than risk passing on the possibility of breast cancer.
So tragic. ” I felt a bit like an impostor: I did not have cancer. I had come to realize that my admission to the cancer caste, conditional as it was, was but a temporary substitute for the yet-unrecognized group of which I had become a member. It was not quite a secret society, but it did live, invisibly, by a set of rules different from those of the rest of the world. In this society, people become privy to the information contained in their genes and reshape their bodies—and their fates—accordingly.
One in fourteen Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier of the Gaucher’s mutation. None of these conditions is unique to Jews, but they are more common among the Ashkenazim than in any other population. The fact that they share some features—all are enzyme deficiencies, and all but Canavan are what are called lipid-storage diseases—has long led scientists to suspect that this is no accident. Neither bad luck nor genetic drift can explain the emergence of different mutations (each of the conditions can result from one of several) that affect different genes but cause similar processes to occur in the body.