Do genes matter?

Nature or nurture? It’s one of those eternal questions – but one which has particular importance to anyone considering donor conception. The idea of passing on our genetic heritage is part of our expectations when it comes to parenthood, and finding out that you will only be able to get pregnant if you use donor eggs or sperm involves thinking again about some of those preconceptions. ¬†But should it? Are genes really as important as we imagine?

I went to an event last week organised by Progress Educational Trust titled Do Genes Matter? There were presentations from leading fertility lawyer Natalie Gamble, from Pride Angel’s Erika Tranfield and Professor Carol Smart, a sociologist from Manchester University who has studied donor families. For me, some of the most thought-provoking ideas came from the geneticist on the panel, Professor¬†Anneke Lucassen, who explained just how little of who we are comes from our genes. She showed that contrary to our beliefs, the variation in our genetic make-up is miniscule and that most of what we are is down to our environment rather than our genetic heritage – so choosing an Oxbridge-educated donor won’t impact on your child’s intelligence, but the environment in which he or she grows up will do.

Could it be that the way we think about genes is actually more folk culture than scientific reality? Are we all far too worried about the importance of genetic heritage when in fact it is largely irrelevant? What do you think? Do genes matter?