If you’ve ever purchased or considered purchasing a stock, mutual fund or other financial investment, you’ve seen this phrase: Past performance does not guarantee future results. That mortgage based fund that was doing beautifully before the bubble burst in 2008 and it became basically worthless is a dramatic example of this. This concept also applies to pedigrees, genetic and otherwise.
A pedigree tells us what has been, parts of the journey from past to present. Sometimes it may be predictive of the future, as in Mendelian genetics. Blood types and eye color follow a certain predictability. Yet even within this highly predictable realm come spontaneous mutations and alterations. Many characteristics in people and other living beings, plant and animal are considerably more complex than a simple binary equation. Multiple genes may be involved, and as we have now discovered, whether or not a gene is activated also plays a part in whether a trait is displayed or activated. Nature or nurture, it turns out that it is often some of each. Experiences do matter.
I have noticed that people and social groups desire predictability and a given outcome; for things to appear a certain way–this child, puppy or horse will have these features. Maybe, but your child might have a completely different set of features or interests. What a misery for everyone involved when what the pedigree suggests and what actually appears is quite different. It happens often enough. Most families have members who do not appear to follow the predictions of their pedigree. They are often called “black sheep”. Such a disappointment to have a scientist instead of a skier, or vice versa.
And in many traditions, one’s role in the family or tribe is dictated by circumstances of birth. The firstborn male is to follow in his father’s footsteps, while others have other, often lesser options. Monty Python and the Holy Grail has a fine scene about this, where the prince who is to be married to the daughter of a wealthy property owner doesn’t want to do it, he wants to sing and dance.
Like most things, pedigrees offer information and can be quite interesting. However, its very important to give more credence to the actual individual and who/what they actually are as opposed what their pedigree might suggest. Someone or something that “looks good on paper” via their pedigree or resume might be very different in person, and those without pedigree or of a seemingly less impressive lineage may do great things. And if you are doubting this, consider the tomato. There are tomatoes of fine pedigree, with all manner of disease resistance and bred for durability and longevity. Fine characteristics on paper. Compare it to your home garden grown heirloom tomato, with its susceptibility to disease, irregular shape and color, and tendency to spoil and bruise easily. Which would you prefer to eat? If I’m eating, I’ll take the heirloom everytime.