by Jake Meyer
The other day I while doing some patent law related research, I stumbled across a patent in the U.S. Patent and Trademark's patent database on a gene linked to dyslexia—U.S. Patent No. 7,355,022. Dyslexia has been defined as a learning disability. It can manifest itself in many different ways, but usually appears as some type of difficulty with reading and/or writing.
After I found the patent on a dyslexia gene, I started to think about the types of inventions a company licensing this patent might be. After a gene is "discovered," lab tests for the gene can be developed. These genetic tests could be used to determine if someone has this dyslexia gene and therefore a predisposition to dyslexia. Tests could also be used to preselect embryos to help ensure a child might be born without dyslexia. Or perhaps in the future genetic therapies or a cure to dyslexia could be found.
Children with dyslexia often struggle in school as much of the day the curriculum centers around reading and writing. Adults with dyslexia will also often face frustration as much of our modern world requires reading and writing. The frustration and struggle could be avoided with genetic screening or a "cure." However, to practice genetic screening for dyslexia or to "cure" it could have some unknowable consequences if the genes responsible for dyslexia were no longer present in the human population.
Thomas G. West in his book In the Mind's Eye wrote about people with dyslexia—or as he termed them, "high visual thinkers." West discusses many noted scientists such as Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and Richard Feynman who had dyslexia or are suspected to have had dyslexia. To West, dyslexia is not so much a learning disability or undesirable condition, as it is a different thinking style. West points to their highly visual thinking style as a likely cause of their success. Einstein, for example, was known to perform "thought experiments" which were highly visual in nature. Einstein's greatest contribution, the theory of relativity, was conceived during one of these thought experiments.
As we move towards cures and therapies for certain genetic conditions and perhaps begin genetic engineering, we need to keep in mind that some genetic conditions that are seen as undesirable may also provide an unrecognized advantage. To cure dyslexia may be to cure the future of its greatest thinkers. While having dyslexia does not assure that one will have the scientific insight of Albert Einstein, it does raise questions as we start to tinker with the genetic diversity of the human population.