Sisters and Genes

Sometimes, at the now rare moments when we are all at home at the same time, my sisters and I will stand in the mirror and look at our reflections next to each other. First we like to point out the features that we share between each other, because we are always told we look alike. Almost, a set of quadruplets, but with six years in total between us. Then we look closer, and pick out the qualities that we received from a family member. I am the youngest, the baby, but I am the tallest, tall like my father. Marie has the brown eyes like our mother. Natalie is petite with the smile like our aunt’s. Kelly has the shocking blonde hair that came from our grandmother, but a box of dye as well. And then we look very, very, closely, and the abundance of differences floods over us. It transpires the size of our noses and hip widths and the prominence of our cheekbones into the realm of how quickly one of us gets angered. What one of us chooses to laugh at, what one of us chooses to study in school, which candidate we want in office next year. My mother says she likes to simply sit and watch us interact with each other. We share so many things – both in appearance and in personality – yet we are vastly different human beings.

As I watched PBS’s “Cracking the Code of Life”, I was struck by one of the commentator’s comments more than any of the heartbreaking stories of genetic diseases, or the fascinating accounts of scientist’s progressive accomplishments. He was talking about the minuscule size of DNA. It’s so small, it’s impossible for us to imagine. And beyond that, the actual differences we have between our siblings, our friends, strangers, any human, really, are just a tiny part of that. A billionth of a millimeter, or whatever astoundingly small number, signifies the countless differences I can find between my sisters and I. One of the scientists interviewed even later goes on to bring out a vial of what appears to be just clear goo. That’s DNA, he says. Just goop. Almost meaningless, but far from it.

I  came to the conclusion after finishing the special: the code of life is just this sticky substance one can place in a test tube. But it also means disease, it means anguish, it means tremendous scientific breakthroughs, and it means a highly controversial future. Yet my sisters and I  argue over who has the best hair, commiserate over who is more argumentative, and who is better at math, and these differences, I will still hold, are of massive importance. This says a lot of the study of genetics. It is an undertaking in a precarious situation, balancing  between the superficiality of aesthetics and the gravity of life and death.

Erin A.

~ by eandrews2092 on January 15, 2012.

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