In a recent new year’s letter to family and friends, Bill Gates stated: “the promise and perils of genomics is the single most important public conversation we are not having today.” I would posit that genomics is also the single most important conversation wealthy families are not universally having today.
We have entered the “Age of the Genome”. Over the next decade, global families, family offices and family enterprise will gain increasing access to clinical applications of the cutting-edge sciences of genomics and epigenetics. These sciences will be critical in assisting early adopter families and their advisors to make informed decisions which enhance health, mitigate risk, and promote enduring family legacy. A few key definitions may be helpful.
Genetics is the study of heredity and individual genes which have long been understood to be a major determinant of health and well-being. Many of us learned about genetics in high school biology, studying Mendel’s pea plant experiments of the early 1860s.
Epigenetics is the unseen biological process by which our genes are turned “on” and “off”. It involves changes in our biology caused by modifications in gene expression, rather than the underlying genetic code itself. Factors that influence our epigenetics include diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, psychological and spiritual well-being, stress, and environmental toxins.