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Alan Guttmacher on Genetics

Alan Guttmacher tells the New York Times that being a doctor ran in his family — his mother, father, and father's twin brother were all physicians — and he decided to become a pediatrician "because there you get to see the kids grow." Now, Guttmacher, the acting director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says his institute is looking to understand "the biological roots of the different types of autism." He adds that having a map of the human genome will aid their search. "Many of the different types of autism are either genetic or triggered by environmental factors and a genetic predisposition," he says. Guttmacher has also had his own bouts with genetic disease, having suffered a heart attack and being diagnosed with leukemia — the disease that his father and uncle died of. "My only risk factor for either was family history," Guttmacher says. "It's ironic. In a family of physicians, I'm the only medical geneticist. And I'm the one who's inherited the diseases."

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