In 2016, I got my genome sequenced while I was working on a book about heredity. Some scientists kindly pointed out some of the interesting features of my genetic landscape. And then they showed me how to navigate the data on my own. Ever since, I’ve been a genomic wayfarer. Whenever I come across some new insight into the links between our genes and our lives, I check my own DNA. One day I’m inspecting a mutation that raises my risk of skin cancer. The next I’m discovering I have a variant for smooth teeth.
I often consult a website called DNA.Land, run by a team of scientists affiliated with the New York Genome Center who use it to collect genetic data from volunteers for scientific research. Over 100,000 people have signed up so far (the service is free, and the researchers don’t sell the information to third parties). As a token of appreciation, the researchers write programs to analyze their volunteers’ DNA, generating new reports based on the latest studies.
On a recent visit to DNA.Land, I scanned down the list of traits they offered to tell me about. I stopped at intelligence.
I took a breath before I clicked.
Intelligence, after all, is different from the smoothness of your teeth or your risk of skin cancer. People have fought over the very meaning of the word for over a century. In the early 1900s, some psychologists claimed that intelligence was the mental power underlying many different tasks we carry out, from solving problems to remembering facts. And they developed ways to measure it with a number, just as a doctor might give a number for your blood pressure or body temperature.