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Just an Item in the Toolbox

While our DNA exerts some influence on who we are and what we do, Ewan Birney, the director of the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute, writes in an opinion piece at the Guardian, that DNA is not the end-all be-all of who we are.

For instance, Birney notes that people's genetics influence about 80 percent of their height, but so does nutrition — despite similar genetics between North Koreans and South Koreans, South Koreans are, on average, three to four centimeters taller, likely due to better nutrition. The context, he writes, is important.

Instead, Birney writes that DNA is a tool that people can wield. Random variation with a population can be used to unpack questions of correlation and causation, such as researchers have done in studies of cholesterol and health. People are, he adds, a mix of nature and nurture.

"However, we must remember that although DNA sequencing is one of the many useful tools for understanding our complex world, it's not a way of justifying the complex differences we see around us — from behavior to inequality. DNA is not our destiny; it is just a very useful tool," Birney writes.