“Who are you?” This question, asked by the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, befuddled Alice. How would you answer this simply complicated question?

Some people might turn to a DNA test kit with the idea that they are defined by the four simple “letters” that constitute their genetic code. Yet, the answer they get may make a person question their identity even more than Alice did. And this may just not happen once, but several times to the same individual (Garde, 2019). Why? As genetic testing companies continue to refine their algorithms and incorporate more data, this can change the reports clients receive. One moment a person may have been X% of something only to find out that they are now Y% of something completely different. These fluctuations in genomic identity can challenge family history and how people identify themselves.

You probably know that your DNA ultimately does not define you. You are more than an assortment of chemical letters. Even at the molecular level, you are actually built and maintained by proteins. Your brain, heart, lungs and guts all are built from your proteins, and fulfill their life-critical duties through your proteins. In fact, every one of your senses (seeing, hearing, touch, etc.) relies on your proteins. No other molecule, not even DNA, is more central to what makes you, you.

Your proteins, unlike your genes for the most part, also change over time in response to how you experience life. Indeed, your state of health is primarily a direct reflection of the accumulated changes in your protein make-up over time. Protein imbalances can foretell or cause a wide range of diseases and disorders, sometimes years before symptoms arise. They can also reveal your fitness state, your nutritional status, even your true age.

While proteins can provide insight about the mechanical you (including your health status), they do not comprehensively define you as the individual you are. Knowing the information, however, could help you strive to be the version of you that you want to become, such as a healthier, fitter, happier you.

Who are you? That deceptively not-so-simple question really cannot be answered satisfactorily on an existential level by peering into your molecules. Maybe the best answer to the caterpillar is, “I am me.”

 

References

Garde, D. (2019, May 22) ‘What’s my real identity?’: As DNA Ancestry Sites Gather More Data, the Answer for Consumers Often Changes. STAT. Retrieved on June 27, 2019 from https://www.statnews.com/2019/05/22/dna-ancestry-sites-gather-data-shifting-answers-consumers/.