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“ A healthy lifestyle is still the best”

- By Vivienne Rowland

International geneticist Professor Nick Hastie has urged people to lead healthy lifestyles, in spite of all the medical interventions available today.

“Lead a healthy lifestyle – genetics may one day have a bigger impact in predicting illness, but for now, lead a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Hastie delivered a public lecture titled: Genetics: the new fortune telling? as part of his week-long visit to the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB) at Wits.

“We can do wonderful things with genetics – family planning, parental choices and treatments. We still have to do science though because we are curious, and we do it with the possible view of cures or solutions to medical problems,” said Hastie.

Hastie, visiting Wits as a Strategic Planning and Allocation of Resources Committee funded Distinguished Scholar, was the main speaker at a series of events, which included the public lecture, a seminar titled: Wt1 and cell switching in cancer, development, tissue homeostasis and repair; and a lecture on Quantitative trait analysis work in population isolates.

Hastie is from the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit and the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine in Edinburgh in the UK. He has worked in many areas including gene expression, genome organisation (including telomeres) and protein evolution. 

Hastie has had a long-term interest in human developmental genetics, concentrating on the childhood kidney cancer, Wilms’ tumour.  Over the past few years Hastie has also become heavily engaged in a major population genetics project to identify genetic risk factors for common disease. He was an International Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

SBIMB Director Professor Michèle Ramsay, said: “This visit was timely as we grapple with the interpretation of genomic data in both a clinical and research setting. Genome sequencing is becoming more affordable, even to South Africans, but our ability to understand and interpret the DNA sequences and their use in predicting health or disease is lagging.”