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home : education : schools January 16, 2019

10/16/2018 1:29:00 PM
Science talk asks: nature or nurture?
Dr. Barbara Handelin will talk on genetic science at The Belfry on Tuesday, October 23. photo provided
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Dr. Barbara Handelin will talk on genetic science at The Belfry on Tuesday, October 23. photo provided

Your 5-year-old daughter scrambles up to the top porch rail and, without hesitation, jumps onto the grass below. You gulp; she lands safely, pumping her fist in triumph. "She's just like her father," you sigh.

Is she? Are genetics that predictive of risky behavior? How about her little brother, who at three insists on stacking his Legos by color in neat rows, all exactly the same height. You wonder if your propensity for alphabetizing spices could help explain his behavior.

On the other hand, the children have watched their father do some crazy stuff and they know you like the silverware drawer kept perfectly neat, knife blades aligned to the left.

So - nature or nurture? It's a question that has burdened great thinkers for thousands of years. Genetic scientists may be closing in on some surprising answers.

Over the past 30 years, Dr. Barbara Handelin has been at the forefront of genetic science, guiding research on the human genome toward practical applications in medicine. She recalls the thrill of the first cloning work to isolate genes that cause devastating illnesses such as Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis; concerned with the ethics of gene therapy, she worried her way through the first craze to push such therapy into clinical trials.

Dr. Handelin will share her thoughts on the current state of genetic science at The Belfry on Tuesday, October 23 for the second lecture in the 2018-19 Frontiers in Science series, sponsored by the Sisters Science Club.

Her curiosity about the influence of genetics on human life is unlimited.

"I marvel at how we really are forced to look at how all of our traits, including some that were thought to be purely nurture - like obsessive behavior and risk-taking - may be more nature after all," Dr. Handelin says.

She is also intrigued by the way DNA can be "reverse analyzed" to reveal a physical profile of a person so clear and detailed that it could be described as a calling card that is always left behind to be collected, analyzed and stored. As a result, the National DNA Index in the United States now contains information from more than 16 million people and has been used to aid in over 387,000 investigations, an important tool in counter-intelligence operations and "cold-crime" detective work.

Whether determined by nature or nurture, one of Dr. Handelin's most obvious traits is a love of science and medicine. After earning her doctorate from the OHSU School of Medicine in 1987, Dr. Handelin led the establishment of what became the largest commercial DNA testing lab in the world at Integrated Genetics (later Genzyme Genetics). As lab director, she was a principal advisor to clinical lab regulators on developing standards for clinical DNA testing, a founder of a leadership group on developing ethical standards for genetic testing, and among the first dozen medical geneticists to be board-certified by the American College of Medical Genetics in Molecular and Biochemical Genetics.

Since 1995, her solo consulting practice has provided services to venture capital investors, C-level managers of new technology companies, and senior business development executives in biotechnology, diagnostics, genomics, pharmacogenetics and bioinformatics companies and biomedical universities.

Dr. Handelin's lecture, "The Good, the Ugly, the Curious: Everything is Genetic," starts at 7 p.m. at The Belfry, with an introduction by genetics counselor Barbara Pettersen of Bend. Social hour begins at 6:15 p.m. (note the new time) with light fare, beer, and wine available. Admission is $5; teachers and students are admitted free. The Belfry is located at 302 E. Main Ave.

For more information on the Sisters Science Club:;

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