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Talking genetics

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Ingrid Borecki, PhD, is a former professor of genetics and biostatistics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

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Victoria Kemper

From finding your ancestry and long lost relatives, genetic engineering of food and the advent of personalized medicine, genetics is becoming a topic hard to ignore.

Genetic and genomic applications have increasingly come into broad use in everyday lives since the human genome was sequenced in the early 2000s.

The Ozark Regional Library is hosting Dr. Ingrid Borecki via Zoom at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for individuals to learn about the topic and to ask questions.

Borecki has more than 35 years of experience in statistical and genetic analysis of complex human traits, integrating epidemiologic, biometrical, genomic, and bioinformatic approaches. She was professor of Genetics and Biostatistics at Washington University School of Medicine and for most of her career focused her research on the genetic underpinnings of cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic disorders, and fatty liver disease.  

“I spent most of my career in heart disease,” Borecki said. “It’s a number one killer in the United States and it’s got many causes.”

Borecki said if they can understand the underlined genetic causes then they can tell which patients have problem with clotting, lipid problems, etc.

“This is the whole idea behind personalized medicine,” Borecki said. “What we want to do is prevent the outcome not just save them once they’ve had a heart attack. We want to manage them while they are still healthy to keep them healthy. That’s the kind of work that I’ve been engaged in.” 

During the discussion, Borecki will go over some basic concepts in human genetics, how genes function and consider whether our fate is slavishly dependent on our genetic inheritance. The discussion will also take a look at how having DNA tested can reveal ancestry and complement genealogical studies, and consider how knowledge of disease-related genetic factors can be used in their own health care management decisions. 

“This is not going to be highly technical,” Borecki said. “I really want this to be just like us talking about interesting concepts in genetics.”

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Borecki said she is really excited about sharing this information and thinks of it as scientific literacy.

“There are certain things as our society progresses that I think people should know something about because it begins to affect them and their daily life,” Borecki said. “Just getting a bit of background on that and talking about how it touches them, I hope that they will enjoy hearing that because I like sharing that sort of thing.”

Borecki said she wants to keep the conversation somewhat informal. 

“I want to give them some stories and background, and then I would really like to take their questions and hear what they are interested in,” Borecki said. “Then we can just talk about that.”

Borecki said she plans to talk about the Golden State Killer and how genetics and genealogy were use to track the person who committed the crimes years after they happened.

“Essentially, it was out of one of those databases where they found a distant relative from an old rape kit and then they started building the genealogy of this person by going through public records,” Borecki said. “People have actually been arrested and prosecuted based on that kind of detective work.”

Borecki said stories like these raise questions regarding the consent forms signed when participating in things such as 23andMe. She said you give consent to having your DNA in a database to help look for long-lost relatives but it can also be used in these situations.

“If it is a law enforcement person that is looking for a perpetrator of a crime you just signed over permission,” Borecki said. “That is the thing about genetics, it’s not just all about you. If I sign a test that I want to look at my disposition to Alzheimer’s, that information also impacts my children.”

Borecki said she plans to talk more about consent forms and the basic genetics which allows places such as 23andMe to assess your genetic roots. She said she is really surprised by how many people are interested in understanding something about their genetic roots.

“I really want this to feel like a group of people sitting around and chatting about something that is really super interesting,” Borecki said. “I want to really just talk stories. Kind of talking about trends and what is happening and how we do these things and stuff like that, just so people can get a little bit more conversational about it.”

To sign up for the Zoom with Dr. Ingrid Borecki Thursday, contact the Ozark Regional Library at 573-783-2120 or visit your local branch.

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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