Columns | What Genes Can’t Tell Us

Living in the “Yet”: When Genetic Tests Don’t Reveal the Answers You Seek

As a mother, I’ve had to ask myself: What would never getting an answer, or even no longer expecting an answer, look like?

This is a monthly column by Taylor Harris on parenting, genetics, and the quest for answers to medical riddles.

Our body is made up of cells that contain our chromosomes. Chromosomes are made of DNA, which carries the genetic information in units called genes which are passed down from one generation to the next (Figure 1).

Approximately 2% of our DNA provides instructions for proteins, and that 2% is called the exome. When mistakes in our DNA lead to disease, they occur most often in the exome. Once we receive the sample, the lab isolates the DNA from the blood and compares the sequence of the affected individual’s exome with the sequence of the exome from healthy people.


This comparison looks for misspellings, or mutations, that could leave a gene unable to do its job correctly and could be the cause of the individual’s disease.

ButI don’t know if any of this actually matters.

yet. yet.

The field is moving so fast, who knows what we will know in ten years,


liminal,what waswhat would be.


So I will hold him tight in this space, and he will curl his head around to softly kiss my elbow as he does some nights, and I will whisper, “Lord, Jesus. We don’t know. Lord, Jesus. Amen.”