×

Announcing: Slashdot Deals - Explore geek apps, games, gadgets and more. (what is this?)

Thank you!

We are sorry to see you leave - Beta is different and we value the time you took to try it out. Before you decide to go, please take a look at some value-adds for Beta and learn more about it. Thank you for reading Slashdot, and for making the site better!

Heredity and Humanity

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the pardon-me,-are-those-bugle-boy-genes? dept.

Science 128

anexilus sent in this essay by the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. He discusses genes, nature and nurture, and tries to allay fears that Gattaca will come to pass. Good reading.

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

put the engineering back into genetic engineering (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#136089)

A lot of people seem to be worried about the ethical and legal implications of human germline modification (that is, modifying the genes of our kids in such a way that it may affect the genes of our kids kids), and are arguing that that we don't know what's going on and shouldn't touch it.

The point here is that a brief look at journals like Cell, or even Nature (you can check them out in any university library) and a good sit down with the text books that they give to 2nd year biochemistry students (which start from the beginning concept wise and explain the state of the art far better than I can) will give you evidence that the situation runs more like this:

We don't know the functions and interactions of all the genes or their products, but those that we do know, we have learned a great deal about and that knowledge is growing exponentially.

It's now possible to engineer soy beans with better nutritional content, at the expense of giving them brittle stems (which requires more intensive irrigation). We may not know much more about what the other genes do, and people are working on it and the thale cress genome right now, but we do know that we need to keep it growing in a not so hot environment, and we've subjected it to more rigorous controlled trials for toxicity than most organic varieties. The genes for more nutritional content are not destiny for the plant. It can still grow up to be a broken backed little sap if you don't give it the right environment. It is a product, designed for a market and built to specifications. It just happens that the product is capable of assembling copies of itself ad infinitum.

Perhaps if we are going to modify thinking organisms to do human like things, we shouldn't do it to our kids, but create a completely different species.

or perhaps we could focus on positive aspects of genetic advantage. If you knew your kid had an propensity to express the genes for Human Growth Hormone and anabolic steroids, would your kid ever forgive you if you didn't train it as an athelete, and it didn't get it picked by talent scouts for that sports scholarship or didn't win gold at the olympics and didn't become a celebrity.

Would you be able to look it in the eye after it's wasted its life eating pizza? When it had the equipment and the tools to do so much more?

Sometimes the message in the fortune cookie is good. And sometimes a "bad" message can hold promise.

Re:Bad Christian Science (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#136090)

This can actually be a fairly sophisticated philosophical observation. "Egad, there's beauty in the world... something must be going on here."

Yes, that old chestnut... beauty and order is proof of the existence of God. Um, no. Why should it be? What is beauty? Beauty isn't absolute. It's a quirk of perception that instantiates an emotional response. Hardly worthy of being considered proof of any kind.

Gattaca is not dependent on scientific efficacy (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#136091)

Discrimination is about perception, about facts. We have already experienced some of the injustice of eugenics, and if we are not careful, we may yet again. One infamous example:

"Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
--Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the Supreme Court of the United States, Buck v. Bell (1927).

Re:I was with them till the end. (1)

Tim (686) | more than 13 years ago | (#136092)

"it is simple faith to assume that your senses give you an accurate picture of reality."

Ah, postmodernism. Talk about a pointless, cyclic debate.

What's the famous saying about this? "If you doubt existence of a universal truth, open up a window and step outside?"

Something like that...

Re:I was with them till the end. (1)

Tim (686) | more than 13 years ago | (#136093)

"There's nothing postmodern about it -- Hume was one of those Dead White European Males that the postmoderns hate."

The idea was very postmodern. Postmodernists *love* the thought that physical reality might be subjective.

"Scientists make theories, which they have faith in long before enough data is available to make them plausible to the the scientific community at large. The arguments at scientific meetings are quite heated because not everyone shares the faith in the theories being discussed."

Scientists have hypotheses. This is not bad. They seek to prove, disprove or refine those hypotheses with evidence. The process is not based on faith. The process is based on observation.

I was with them till the end. (5)

Tim (686) | more than 13 years ago | (#136094)

"The notion that science alone holds the secrets of our existence has become a religion of its own. The faith of Dawkins and others in biology seems even greater than the faith of the simple believer in God. Science is the proper way to understand the natural, of course; but science gives us no reason to deny that there are aspects of human identity that fall outside the sphere of nature, and hence outside the sphere of science."

While the rest of the article was first-rate, I have to wonder what the authors were thinking when writing the above. Whether they realize it or not, the authors are falling back on that classic logical fallacy that religious groups everywhere have used to argue the creation side of the creation/evolution debate: "there is no evidence for your argument, so mine must be correct."

Science is about what is observable, and to their credit, the authors admit this in the very next paragraph. But to state that a decision to believe only in the observable is tantamount to an act of "faith" is silly. Science is about observation. When you decide that something may never be observable (i.e. because it may be "supernatural"), you bias yourself beyond repair.

It isn't "faith" to believe that our behaviors are a result of complex natural phenomena--it is a refusal to place credence in that which is unobservable, and therefore undefendable. And *that* is the exact opposite of faith.

Someone forgot to tell the insurance companies (3)

sphealey (2855) | more than 13 years ago | (#136096)

Not to worry - _Gattica_ won't come to pass. That's comforting.

Too bad that the author forgot to discuss this with the health insurance companies. These profit-maximizing entities are already going hell bent for leather toward requiring all kinds of genetic tests, and filtering out people based on the results of those tests.

So what, you say? Haven't insurance companies always screened for, say, family history of heart disease? The answer is that although they attempted to screen, and developed some broad exclusion categories, the practical impossibility of actually tracking and classifying health information about millions of individuals meant that, in practice, individual screening did not occur.

Today, with massive collection of personal information and interconnected databases, the situation is quite different. "Mr. Jones, this is your insurance agent. Your supermarket discount card shows that you purchased two cases of beer this week. As a result your car insurance rates are going up $50. Please send payment by this afternoon or your policy will be cancelled".

And now we have genetic mapping. The author says its only one part of the picture. Great. Then why are the insurance companies so intent on preserving their right to collect and classify based on this information?

Given that in the U.S., you are either part of a group health plan, or you are pretty much doomed to die a slow death from lack of treatment, genetic screening is essentially a death sentence for many people who in the past would have been invisible in group pools.

But don't worry - this information can't be used that way.

sPh

Re:I was with them till the end. (2)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 13 years ago | (#136097)

The postmoderns (and the moderns for that matter) have always been lacking in their history of philosophy. As in most universities today, they sort of skip from the Greeks to Descartes. HELLLLLLLO! The medievals (you know, the guys from the so-called Dark Ages... the non-Enlightened ones...) were discussing this stuff and, logically speaking, it boils down to a philosophical disagreement as to whether universals exist, and if they do, what are they. The terms aren't precisely interchangeable with subjective/objective, but close enough.

The modern project assumes there are only particulars, even when they're using freaking universals in their arguments. The postmoderns have just pointed this out and believe that this justifies whatever wacky political position they happen to have at the time. The postmoderns, just like the moderns, operate on the assumption that there are only particulars, they're just more consistent about it.

What the Hell is my point? I suggest reading a book by Alisdair MacIntyre called After Virtue. It's not the best written book ever, but he gives a decent enough argument why we should give Thomas of Aquinas' Aristotlean philosophy a second look after all these centuries. Thomas takes the middle ground on the universal/particular distinction.

-l

Re:No (2)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 13 years ago | (#136098)

NO NO NO. Science incurs prediction, and if the model fails the prediction that model is invalidated and we try again.

Of course, but you're ignoring the questions of 1) the validity of the prediction-making process (i.e., whether the scientific method is a truth-bearing methodology) and 2) the validity of the model.

[1] makes the obvious assumption that the universe is predictable. The problem here is that predictability is a subjective claim. It's a faith claim based on experience. What you don't get is that that's just fine.

[2] Assume you have a model that accurately predicts all phenomena. What methodology do you use to prove that this is how the universe works? Simple. You believe that the model is accurate, even though there is no way to check it.

-l

Re:Scientific faith is different than religious fa (2)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 13 years ago | (#136099)

Read my other comment along these lines in this thread. Basically, you're ignoring your faith in the scientific method, your faith in logic, and your faith in the actual predictability of the cosmos.

Few people think faith has no experiential basis. These faiths of science are gounded in experience and seem pretty acceptable to most people. Why can't you accept them as they are?

-l

Re:I still consider DNA as merely a blueprint (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 13 years ago | (#136103)

If dominant and recessive genes really were so binary in nature (D | R = D, R | R = R, D | D = D, etc) then unless there was more imbreeding going on, all recessive genes would've eventually gone away and we would all be the same.

That is not correct. Even under such a simple model, recessive traits do not go away, at least in an effectively randomly breeding population. Look up "Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium" in any genetics textbook for a simple mathematical reason why this is so.

Re:I was with them till the end. (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 13 years ago | (#136104)

There's nothing postmodern about it -- Hume was one of those Dead White European Males that the postmoderns hate.

Also, working scientists know very well that they are not in the business of searching for "Universal Truths", whatever they are. Scientists make theories, which they have faith in long before enough data is available to make them plausible to the the scientific community at large. The arguments at scientific meetings are quite heated because not everyone shares the faith in the theories being discussed.

Re:I was with them till the end. (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 13 years ago | (#136105)

Scientists have hypotheses. This is not bad. They seek to prove, disprove or refine those hypotheses with evidence. The process is not based on faith. The process is based on observation.

Science just isn't that simple. The "Scientific Method" of sharply defined stages of hypothesis, testing, and theory that everyone learns in high school just isn't what scientists do in practice. If it were, science would be lot easier but much less interesting. To get a paper published, you have to convince the reader that your model is good, even if not much data supporting it is available. If your model was an obvious conclusion from the data, someone would have already published it.

Re:I was with them till the end. (5)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 13 years ago | (#136106)

I'm a scientist and not at all religious, but I can recognize that quite a lot of faith goes on in science, just like any other field. Even if science was nothing more than observation (and science is certainly far more than that), it is simple faith to assume that your senses give you an accurate picture of reality. The philosopher Hume (regarded as the father of modern atheism, btw) made that point in the 18th century.

gene knowledge is not a cure (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 13 years ago | (#136110)

There are several major diseases: cystic fibrosis,
tay sachs, huntingtons, AIDS- where the gene(s)
have been exactly known for at least five years,
but are no where near a cure. Its not that simple.

Science and Reality (1)

drac (13878) | more than 13 years ago | (#136111)

Ah, but true science only concerns itself with aspects of reality that can be measured...

the true scientific response to
"It's something you can't measure" may be "Well I don't care about it then" or "Well let me find a way to measure it"; but it can never be "Well then it doesn't exist"

Re:How can he calm fears Gattaca will come to pass (2)

Tim C (15259) | more than 13 years ago | (#136113)

I think you'd probably think rather differently, if you were born naturally and didn't get lucky in the genetic stakes...

That was the whole point of the film - those whose parents couldn't or wouldn't pay for them to be engineered to be "perfect" were instantly part of a genetic underclass. Discriminated against, unable to secure any but the most menial of jobs, etc.

Yeah, it's an extreme view of a possible outcome of genetic engineering, but how you can possibly ask if it's "such a bad thing" escapes me.

Anyway, the real dangers of genetically engineering the human race aren't ending up living in a Gattaca-like world. They're loss of genetic diversity leading to susceptability to some new "super plague" that comes out of nowhere and catches us by surprise, and the unforeseen consequences of the offspring of people with an "unfortunate" combination of genotypes.

In fact, for the really, really paranoid types in the audience, how's this for a possible scenario: one country covertly genetically engineering their population, or an elite subsection of it, to be resistent to a "super-bug" designed to decimate the rest of the world? It would solve all sorts of crises in one fell swoop - over population, risk of imminent nuclear destruction, rendering of the world uninhabitable due to pollution, etc. Could be quite tempting to a suitably unhinged leader with the technology at his or her fingertips.

Alternatively, the same leader could just have a similar bug engineered to exploit some property of the "dominant" genotype of their least favourite country. With everyone who can afford it engineering themselves and their children towards a common idea of perfection, such a bug could be absolutely devastating.

I'm not saying that either of these are likely, or reason not to research genetic engineering, just providing food for thought. (Not to mention providing the truly paranoid with another reason for sleepless nights ;) )

Cheers,

Tim

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (2)

voop (33465) | more than 13 years ago | (#136114)


And that's even before we move beyond our current capabilities! Just by eliminating flaws like disease and infirmity, we increase our race's fitness massively, making our children better equipped to deal with a world that changes faster and faster each year. And as we move away from the Earth and into new environments, genetic engineering will allow us to adapt ourselves to fit those environments, meaning the human race can thrive for ever...



That's all fine and well, and I believe that noone disputes that genetic engineering has loads of positive prospects......however it's not the core of the debate, really.



If engaging in genetic engineering pratices, there will be a hard - if not impossible - task in seperating rational desires for improvement from "religious" (in lack of a better term) desires. Would it, for example, be an improvement or not if it was possible to genetically engineer such that homosexuality was to disappear? How 'bout left-handedness? Or bad taste in music ;) ?



My point is, that while I am not against genetic engineering as such, I find it hard myself to figure out where to draw the line between objective "improvements" and just "adjustments according to my personal taste" (or religion or some such). Much more would I be reluctant - if not directly opposing - to trusting someone else (the genetics, the governments or something) to draw that line.

Did this guy... (2)

chrysalis (50680) | more than 13 years ago | (#136116)

...hear the Java program that interpret DNA sequence into music ?

Re:Gattaca is not dependent on scientific efficacy (2)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 13 years ago | (#136117)

> We have already experienced some of the injustice of eugenics, and if we are not careful, we may yet again. One infamous example:
>
> "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
> --Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the Supreme Court of the United States, Buck v. Bell (1927).

[Yes, I know I'm taking you completely out of context and being totally insensitive to the, uh, neurologically-differently-abled], but maybe he was onto something.

After all, it seems to explain the Kennedys [shutdown.com] pretty well, and I'm sure there are plenty of Democrats who feel that two generations of Bush in the White House are plenty ;-)

Re:This guy sure has the smarts gene (2)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 13 years ago | (#136118)

> What gets me is how many politicians are swayed by the religious angles of genetic research and still insist that there is a seperation of church and state.

Politicians exist to get re-elected.

If you have a high proportion of fundies in your district, and those fundies fear genetic engineering because they believe it's against God's will, then you (as a politician) are obliged (on pain of not getting re-elected) to take up the cause.

Same thing as "It's for the chilllldrun". It's a rhetorical device used to get votes. You think the politicians give a shit about the damage their laws do, so long as they get re-elected? ;)

Personally, I'd like to see a system whereby posession of a law degree precludes one from sitting on a committee responsible for making decisions about technology. Better yet, an amendment where a B.Sc. or P.Eng is a requirement sitting on such a committee.

The real problem with democracy as it exists today is that the people making the decisions have no fscking clue what they're legislating. They are forced - by virtue of their cluelessness - to rely on their advisors. The advisors are similarly clueless, and rely on the only source of information available to them, namely the stuff that's spoon-fed them by the lobbyists.

> religious angles of genetic research

Religious story for you: When I attended church regularly, we had a pastor who held a Ph.D. in philosophy. The best sermon he ever delivered was the one where he stood up in front of the 1000-odd people in his congregation and started a speech on evolution with "I'm not going to attempt to scientifically prove the existence of God. It can't be done." I was flabbergasted -- the guy was being honest about it.

The next 40 minutes was basically the Douglas Adams argument: Proof denies faith, and without faith, God is nothing.

He urged the crowd to stop trying to "prove" creationism and "disprove" evolution. Not only are the observed facts not on your side (Why would a benevolent God endow us with the capacity for wonder and reason, and then load the tar pits with "fake" dino bones, the universe with "fake" redshifts, etc etc, so that when we use these gifts, we come to the wrong conclusions? Do these people believe God is some kind of psychopath?)... but even if someone were to "prove" God existed, it would make faith worthless, and thereby defeat the purpose.

Of course, when he delivered the sermon, he backed up most of the argument with scripture. The best part was towards the end, when I saw many heads nodding -- even the heads of the stereotypical "little old ladies with blue hair".

Props to him. He had clue. Wish more of 'em did.

Scientific faith is different than religious faith (1)

mghiggins (61851) | more than 13 years ago | (#136119)

> I'm a scientist and not at all religious, but I can recognize that quite a lot of faith goes on in science, just like any other field.

There's a huge difference though - hypotheses in science, initially taken on faith, CAN BE TESTED AND DISPROVED.

Not true of religious beliefs supported by faith - they can never be tested.

Which doesn't invalidate them, of course. It just makes them something different that scientific beliefs.

Dont even bother (2)

cansecofan22 (62618) | more than 13 years ago | (#136120)

I dont think that we will ever have the world see eye to eye on this kind of thing. You will always have the scientists that see it as new areas to learn about but you will also have the church going public that think that the scientists are playing god ane making them have to think twice about the validity of there beliefs in religion. And then there will also be the rest of the population (most of us) that will side one way or another and a few that will not care at all.

Science "Journalism" Hah! (2)

leucadiadude (68989) | more than 13 years ago | (#136121)

One of thing I got out of this very interresting essay was that unless a journalist can spin something to make it melodramatic, or somehow get a pithy catch phrase out of it, they are just not interested. They won't take the time to do the job properly. Are they afraid of their readership/viewers moving on? I think they should give the public more credit and take the time to do a proper writeup of these complex issues. This isn't limited to genetics, you can see this problem in many areas of science and engineering. After all how many people are out there looking for well written and researched information? And how do you tell when you've been "snookered" by a journalistic hack on a subject you are interested, in but have no formal education or training?

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

Stonehand (71085) | more than 13 years ago | (#136122)

Processes, such as deduction and induction, of course. You don't need to see anybody step in front of a truck to realize that it's harmful, if you have some basic ideas about the mass of such vehicles and the general effects of collision.

Re:This guy sure has the smarts gene (1)

Stonehand (71085) | more than 13 years ago | (#136123)

Journalists can write to a non-technical audience -- that's fine.

But it's unclear to me that they should constantly exaggerate benefits and dangers to the point that science is shown as some bizarre melodrama. Just about every article that shows a touch of progress on cancer treatment is blown up into a "potential cure", while far-out dangers are also maximized when described on paper, or even more so, television. And they *rarely* if ever seem to bother doing any independent verification, such as checking second opinions.

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

Stonehand (71085) | more than 13 years ago | (#136124)

Right. We'd still be mucking about with spontaneous generation theory, treating diseases via bleeding people, heating our huts and caves with campfires...

For those who don't like to do something unless they're certain: Don't eat or drink anything until you can prove that it is perfectly safe. Hint: it's never been done before, and is impossible to do so under the standards that you're proposing. The rest of us can move on once you're gone.

Re:I was with them till the end. (2)

isaac_akira (88220) | more than 13 years ago | (#136125)

it seemed to me that the whole point of the article was to prevent people from being freaked out by Genome research (hmm, and why would the "Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute" want that?) so he first gave a happy (if somewhat conflicting) answer to those who see science as the one true answer, and then made sure he didn't upset religious folks by including thier viewpoint too.

i was really annoyed at how easily they glossed over the very real dangers in using genetic information. the scenario they mention where you could find out what illnesses you are pre-disposed for is a great example: what happens when your insurance company, employer, or potential spouse finds out about this info? even if there are laws against it, i'm sure doing these kind of checks will be common if the technology is readily available.

not that i think we shouldn't continue genome research -- i just think those involved need to be honest with the public about what we are getting into.

No (1)

god_of_the_machine (90151) | more than 13 years ago | (#136126)

it is simple faith to assume that your senses give you an accurate picture of reality. The philosopher Hume (regarded as the father of modern atheism, btw) made that point in

NO NO NO. Science incurs prediction, and if the model fails the prediction that model is invalidated and we try again. If you think your senses are wrong, come up with a way to test it. If you can accurately predict your senses are fooling you, science will accommodate it (optical illusions, holograms, interference patterns). It does not require any sort of faith at all. If science uses faith at any step of the way, it is "bad" science.

-rt-

Response from Dawkins (3)

god_of_the_machine (90151) | more than 13 years ago | (#136130)

The notion that science alone holds all the secrets of our existence has become a religion of its own. The faith of Dawkins and others in biology seems even greater than the faith of the simple believer in God.

From Richard Dawkins' book: River out of Eden, pp.31-33

There is a fashionable salon philosophy called cultural relativism which hold, in its extreme forms, that science has no more claim to truth than tribal myth: science is just hte mythology favored by our modern western tribe. I once was provoked by an anthropologist colleague into putting the point starkly, as follows: suppose there is a tribe, I said, who believe that the moon is an oldl calabash tossed into the sky, hanging only just out of reach above the reetops. Do you really claim that our scientific truth--that the moon is about a quarter of a million miles away and a quarter the diameter of the earth--is no more true than the tribe's calabash? "Yes," the anthropologist said. "We are just brought up in a culture that sees the world in a scientific way. The are brought up to see the world in a nother way. Neither way is more true than the other." [...]

Western science, acting on good evidence that moon orbits the earth a quarter of a millions miles away, using western-designed computers and rockets, has succeeded in placing people on its surface. Tribal science, believing that the moon is just above the treetops, will never touch it outside of dreams. [...]

Science shares with religion the clain that it answers deep questions about origins, the nature of life, and the cosmos. But there is where the resemblece ends. Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.

-rt-

Are you kidding about "why"? (2)

_Mustang (96904) | more than 13 years ago | (#136134)

Not specifically trying to flame you, but I certainly would hope so; otherwise I would be forced to make the bald statement that you are obviously a crappy IT person..

Look at this realisticly - anyone who had ever written/tested/maintained a complex system knows just how difficult they are to "debug". Much worse is that a faulty element in a system usually ends up breaking something downstream, rather than the element itself. On top of that it is fairly well accepted that the more complex a system the more delicate the balance between it's components. Most of the crowd in this forum are the elite of the IT business - and I bet they would agree that there are interactions in their own work that occur for which they have no explanations. No explanations other than that the fault lies outside of their immediate area of responsibility; can anyone say *object oriented*?

Now if we can't with absolute certainty guarantee how a piece of software will behave under all conditions, why are we so willing to chance the same with DNA when we aren't even the "authors of the code"?

Am I phobic about genegeneering, do I want it banned? No definately not. That is definately the future humanity must pursue for reasons stated over and over here and elsewhere. My issue is with the people who (as quoted from another thread here on /.) believe that since there is "only a chance in a million that something goes wrong", are willing to roll the dice for everyone..

Re:gene knowledge is not a cure (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 13 years ago | (#136135)

NB: AIDS is not a genetic disease like the others. Say "mechanism" instead of "gene(s)" and I'll mostly agree with you.

"Mostly" because IIRC there have been some moderately successful cystc fibrosis gene therapy trials. "Moderate" success in this case means the patient living a year or solonger than he would have otherwise. Which is far from a cure, but it means that we may be on the right track.

Re:gene knowledge is not a cure (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 13 years ago | (#136136)

[sigh]

1) There's no such word as "virii." If you're going to use the standard Latin plural, it would be "viri" -- but in fact, in English, the plural of "virus" is "viruses."

2) How is it "Human Centric" to say "AIDS is not a genetic disease" when we're talking about _human_ genetics? Of course infectious diseases have a genetic component in the sense of the genomes of the infectious agents (viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc.) but infectious vs. genetic disease is still a useful distinction to make, particularly if we're talking about the prospects for gene therapy cures. I work in biotech; don't try to teach me my business.

3) You're a supercilious, obfuscating twit, AC.

Re:Somewhat comforting.... (2)

gdr (107158) | more than 13 years ago | (#136137)

For example, diabetes runs in my family (Type 2). If I'm found to have enough of the 15 or so gene sequences linked to diabetes, my insurance company could decide to drastically increase my rates.
And if you didn't they could reduce your rates. Chances are the insurance company already takes into account your family's history of diabetes. Genetic tests just provide a more accurate assesment of your genetic propensity for diabetes.

At the end of the day as long as you don't have to take the genetic tests I don't see a problem. You can keep paying the higher rate because of your family history or you could take the tests and hope they come out negative. On average people would be better off taking the tests (insurance companies can provide cheaper insurance if there is less uncertainty).

Re:Let's not get ahead of ourselves (2)

Dr_Cheeks (110261) | more than 13 years ago | (#136138)

Doh! That should say:

......It's good that the issues of nature/nurture and gene discrimination are being discussed now.....

I'm normally so careful to preview too...

Let's not get ahead of ourselves (4)

Dr_Cheeks (110261) | more than 13 years ago | (#136139)

OK, so the human genome has been mapped, big deal. We're overlooking the fact that we actually don't have a clue what most of it does. It's good that the issues of nature/nurture and gene discrimination now, but I think I'll reserve final judgement until we actually understand things. Sure, we don't like to believe we're just baby factories who're faking consciousness, but we can't (currently) prove that it's not true. We used to think the Earth was flat, remember.

Having said that, I strongly believe that I'm who I am because of my experiences, but perhaps that's just my genes making me think that way...

Re:Somewhat comforting.... (1)

TomV (138637) | more than 13 years ago | (#136140)

In the last four months, I've had all kinds of thoughts about how insurance companies would charge higher rates for people with certain genes, etc.

I'm pretty much certain that this will happen. here in the UK the government has already changed the relevant laws to make it possible

On the other hand, i suspect that it's actually a short-term problem caused by the paucity of knowledge in the field. Basically, at the moment, we know about a number of genetic characteristics which seem to manifest as risk-associated characteristics in the phenotype, and insurance companies and the like are able to pick up these characteristics and treat them as risky,and thus expensive to cover.

But as time goes by and we discover a borader range of these characteristics, it seems to me that we could well reach a situation where everyone has some sort of 'risky' characteristic, or, as the research goes further, some particularly 'risky' combination of characteristics. At which point it would cease to be worth the insurers' effort to factor these issues into the price, as most people's 'risks' would tend to balance out.

None of which makes it particularly moral in the short term, of course. But I wonder whether a lot of the problem at the moment is naive opportunism, in which case the opportunity will pass.

TomV

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (2)

TomV (138637) | more than 13 years ago | (#136141)

FUD aside, how can this be a bad thing?

It can be a bad thing by reducing diversity.

As a species, going by the evidence of the early genome sequences to date, we appear to be a remarkable monoculture. The phrase used in the popular press goes along the lines of 'there is more genetic difference between two chimpanzee siblings than between any pair of humans.'

This, in itself represents a risky position - diversity within a species allows the species (not individuals) to survive as the environment changes.

Consider the Sickle-Cell anaemia example cited in the article. The gene survives at least partly because although it's a killer in a lot of places, in places where malaria is a major cause of death, the AS phenotype of the sickle-cell variation allows enough individuals to reach breeding age without dying from malaria to preserve the variation, and the species (they still get the disease, they're just more likely to survive it).

So what's worrying about diving into GE the moment we know it's even possible is that we could merrily, and with entirely well-meant motives, eliminate something which could be the salvation of our species when faced with some at-present unanticipated risk when it faces us at some unspecified point in the future. It's easy to eliminate a known gene, but a lot harder to design and implement a brand new one to meet a new hazard.

And with the particularly low diversity in our species, our differences are especially precious.

TomV

Re:Bad Christian Science (3)

peccary (161168) | more than 13 years ago | (#136143)

My point being: real scientists need to jump in and help these poor folks because they really could use the help.I mean who's never heard the argument that goes something like "I know God exists 'cuz flowers are purty"?

Unfortunately, that's exactly the argument used by this author: "God must exist because humans are purtier than slugs." Every time I see this argument, I am blown away by the arrogance of it. Man exists, therefore God must. Surely Jehovah, or Allah, or Shiva, or Zeus or Odin would rain fire on any human haughty enough to make God's existence contingent on his own.

Re:This guy sure has the smarts gene (1)

Ansonmont (170786) | more than 13 years ago | (#136144)

Ok here goes my attempt to resolve the nature v. nurture debate. 1) Think of Nurture (environment) as a bullet through your brain. 2) Think of yourself (Nature) as being a Pea Plant instead of a human being (assuming you are one). Either case means that you don't go to Harvard, get married or act nice to your dog. Neither circumstance is more important than the other. If you don't have the right genes, you are not a human, if your environment can't support life, you are dead.

Re:Bad Christian Science (1)

gerddie (173963) | more than 13 years ago | (#136145)

real scientists need to jump in and help these poor folks

But you know: If one can proove the existance of God, then this is the final proof that God does not exist. (see D.Adams. THGTTG)

Re:I still consider DNA as merely a blueprint (1)

Elbelow (176227) | more than 13 years ago | (#136146)

... and I couldn't figure out how such strict rules about dominant and recessive genes could produce the variety of species we have. If dominant and recessive genes really were so binary in nature (D | R = D, R | R = R, D | D = D, etc) then unless there was more imbreeding going on, all recessive genes would've eventually gone away and we would all be the same.

The dominant/recessive model is only the simplest example of interactions between genes. Mendel [netspace.org] was actually rather lucky/selective in finding a number of properties of peas that follow this model. In general, properties of organisms are determined by interactions between many different genes, each possessing any number of variants.

Bad Christian Science (4)

dankjones (192476) | more than 13 years ago | (#136147)

I'm glad to see that there are some people with real scientific minds arguing on the side of spirituality/religon/god because all of the christian preachers I have ever heard trying to disprove evolution just came accross as ignorant buffoons. I'm sure the congregation bought it but, truth is, it was realy bad science.

For example, it was announced that there was a 98% similarity between chimpanzee DNA and human DNA. So one preacherman made the point that a watermellon is 98% water and a cloud was 100% water and that proved the scientists wrong.

Then he went on to point out that cars have evolved and changed over the years, but it was because there were people behind the change...cars don't evolve by themselves, so, therefore, neither do animals.

My point being: real scientists need to jump in and help these poor folks because they really could use the help.I mean who's never heard the argument that goes something like "I know God exists 'cuz flowers are purty"?

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (2)

bakayarou (195538) | more than 13 years ago | (#136148)

Eugenics was evil, and it is my shame that we in this country practised it, but as long as the benefits are spread to all, then genetic engineering holds the promise of a freedom from the myriad of inherited diseases that kill or cripple millions each year.

And how to you intend to ensure that the benefits are spread equally to all?

Don't get me wrong, you essentially have a very nice idea. Sounds rather like communism, in fact, except that it doesn't deal with money or resources. Too bad communism didn't work out...

Unfortunately, I'm willing to bet that human nature would treat genetic superiority as another form of currency. Once a few people got their hands on it, they might not want to share it with those that were "lesser" than them.

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

Phillip2 (203612) | more than 13 years ago | (#136149)

"Why is there this huge phobia about genetically engineering the human race? What is so wrong about seeking to be better than you are? "

Because "better" is not an absolute concept. What we feel is better now might not be considered this way in several years time. Should we engineer out homosexuality. Should we engineer our black skin.

You wish to eliminate disease and infirmity? At what cost though. Who is diseased and who is infirm. Even this is not obvious.

Genetic engineering also have a large risks associated with it. Any organism is enormously complex. You change one thing and it impacts on thousands of others. Its very hard to change things for the better without impacting on others. I am short sighted. Wearing glasses is a simple solution and has few side effects. Old simple technology is something the best way forward.

I have no problem with genetic engineering. Indeed I have worked with and produced genetically engineered organisms. If we are too use such organisms we need to go slowly, introduce them incrementally and carefully. And if we are to use these techniques on humans we need to be more careful still. The maxim should be "if you can do no good, then do no harm". Instead what I see is a headlong rush to reduce the time to market, I see short terms financial concerns instead of long term safety. Its not only sad and pathetic, its dangerous.

Phil

Re:I still consider DNA as merely a blueprint (1)

Technodummy (204943) | more than 13 years ago | (#136150)

It is for this reason that I think of DNA as merely being a blueprint. Just like the blueprint to a house, you can view it and see how it is supposed to be, but the houses environment plays a large role in how it turns out (method used to prevent water from coming in the basement, type of roofing used, etc.).

And just like a house, a blueprint doesn't give you an idea of what your home will be like. There's neighbours to take into account, internal and ever-changing style, the inhabitants and events/memories... and location location location *tongue in cheek*

not sure how all of those translate to people, but hey, I took the analogy and ran with it...

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

Technodummy (204943) | more than 13 years ago | (#136151)

Why is there this huge phobia about genetically engineering the human race? What is so wrong about seeking to be better than you are?

When people talk about humanity, the natural negative traits are often overlooked. Genetic engineering has great potential, for good and bad for the human race as a whole.

After all, we go to school in order to become better than we were - to expand our horizons, to be able to accomplish and learn new things. Through life we're taught that it's good to seek to better yourself, to always strive towards a higher goal. Hell, it's the American Dream! ;)

Bettering ourselves is not a bad thing, but we should also keep our eyes open, vigilant for abuse of new techniques.

By not engaging in it, we're cheating both ourselves and our children, depriving them of a brighter future.

A brighter future is a good thing, but there's also greater potential for parents trying to live out their own dreams through their children.

as long as the benefits are spread to all, then genetic engineering holds the promise of a freedom from the myriad of inherited diseases that kill or cripple millions each year.

Very much so... it would be very nice to see the last of terminal illnesses like Cystic Fibrosis

the human race can thrive for ever...

I'm not diagreeing with you on this, but we should put some thought into why we want ourselves as a species to thrive forever... do we really add something special to the universe?

not trying to be a wet blanket, just pointing out the flipside

trying to stifle progress is a bad thing, but when we are messing with people's lives (be it via genetics or laws or our actions), we should take the time to think of why we want to do these things, possible repurcussions and of what things we'd like to prevent and/or be prepared for

Re:I was with them till the end. (1)

yali (209015) | more than 13 years ago | (#136152)

"The notion that science alone holds the secrets of our existence has become a religion of its own. The faith of Dawkins and others in biology seems even greater than the faith of the simple believer in God. Science is the proper way to understand the natural, of course; but science gives us no reason to deny that there are aspects of human identity that fall outside the sphere of nature, and hence outside the sphere of science."

The authors are falling back on that classic logical fallacy that religious groups everywhere have used to argue the creation side of the creation/evolution debate: "there is no evidence for your argument, so mine must be correct."

No, they're not saying that religion is right, only that science has not proven it wrong. To a scientist relying on the logic of inferential hypothesis testing, saying you're unable to reject an idea is different [davidmlane.com] from saying you have supported or confirmed an idea. If you believe that you've proven a null hypothesis (God doesn't exist) when you've only failed to reject it (I cannot prove that God does exist), you've committed a fallacy.

Good scientific thinking does not lead you inevitably to atheism.

Re:I was with them till the end. (2)

RhetoricalQuestion (213393) | more than 13 years ago | (#136155)

Science is about what is observable, and to their credit, the authors admit this in the very next paragraph. But to state that a decision to believe only in the observable is tantamount to an act of "faith" is silly.

I disgree with you here. Science is a system of beliefs, and it dominates our current belief system to such a degree that it's difficult to recognize that it is a belief. (Similarly, 1000 years ago in Europe, Christianity dominated the system of beliefs to such a degree that it was difficult to recognize that it was a belief.)

See, in this time, we've defined what is true to be that which is observable through our senses and/or is provable through the scientific method. That which is not provable we have defined to be bunk. The evidence that this definition is the best is part of the definition itself, since "evidence" is part of the definition of "provable" -- it's the axiom from which you start. This definition of what is true and real is as arbitrary as the Ancient Greek belief that the gods controlled everything. Your own statements show this belief of yours:

It isn't "faith" to believe that our behaviors are a result of complex natural phenomena--it is a refusal to place credence in that which is unobservable, and therefore undefendable.

The thing is, someone starting from a different basis for defining what is true could say the exact same thing for their own system and believe it as much as you do. Because the scientific belief system came after other known systems does not necessarily make it better. Similarly, whatever systems come after science will not necessarily be better either -- merely different. And neither person of any two different systems can believe the other is any more right -- just as I'm sure you'll decide that what I'm saying is bunk.

There is nothing I can say that will (under your definition of truth and provability) show you the truth in what I'm saying, so go ahead and tell me I'm full of it.

In the meantime, you might (if you haven't already) want to read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged -- you'll probably find that the philosophy makes a lot of sense to you. (It makes me shudder.)

Re:I was with them till the end. (1)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 13 years ago | (#136156)

just about the last paragraph:

And someone else has written a very nice article about how science cannot reject the fact that if God exists, he can interfere with all experiments and make them look like natural. It's actually a serious article.

The article might be serious, the hypothesis in it is simply not scientific as you can not devise an experiment to falsify it. Though it's a bit Popperian, falsifiable hypotheses is what science is all about, mystical hypotheses such as this one and religious stuff is only verifiable (show me this deity that does it and I believe you) and thus not useful in science.

Re:Bad Christian Science (2)

namespan (225296) | more than 13 years ago | (#136157)

I know God exists 'cuz flowers are purty

This can actually be a fairly sophisticated philosophical observation. "Egad, there's beauty in the world... something must be going on here." The leap from there to an anthropomorphic omnipotent being is tenuous, but
the start isn't.

Unfortunately, that's exactly the argument used by this author: "God must exist because humans are purtier than slugs." Every time I see this argument, I am blown away by the arrogance of it. Man exists, therefore God must. Surely Jehovah, or Allah, or Shiva, or Zeus or Odin would rain fire on any human haughty enough to make God's existence contingent on his own.

I think that perhaps what the author meant is: there's something different about human beings. Possibly something that you can't account for via genetics. He did choose to attribute that to "God", but it's worth noting that what some people mean by God is different from the afforementioned anthropomorphic omnipotent being.

And the argument really isn't that arrogant...
it's just inductive.Concluding that God exists from observing the difference....

(Also, some mythologies (maybe even theologies) DO beleive that the power/existence of a God is dependent upon the beleif of humans, a la "Black and White", "Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul", and Fred Saberhagen's first three sword Books. It's an interesting concept.)

--

Re:Bad Christian Science (3)

namespan (225296) | more than 13 years ago | (#136158)

Yes, that old chestnut... beauty and order is proof of the existence of God. Um, no. Why should it be?

Did I say it was a proof? No. Did you
read my comment? Obviously not, or you would
have caught:

1) Noting the phenomenon of "beauty" and wondering what it implies is actually a start to some sophisticated philosophy.

2) The acknowledgement on my part that jumping immediately to the concept of an omnipotent anthropomorphic being isn't sound.

Why don't people ponder before they post? (My guess is either they have a axe to grind or they have been over certain segments of a discussion so many times that all they see anymore are their own categorized conceptual maps).

What is beauty? Beauty isn't absolute. It's a quirk of perception that instantiates an emotional response.

Now take on this one: What is good?

A quirk of perception that instatiates value judgements?

Good questions, but simplistic responses....

Of course, this is slashdot, we all have other things to do, and so we don't have time for much else....


--

Re:Let's not get ahead of ourselves (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136159)

Excuse me, that should read "...my ethics are not guarenteed to match anyone else's."

The danger of not previewing is now obvious to me. *sigh*

Kierthos

Re:This guy sure has the smarts gene (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136160)

It doesn't bother me personally that there are laws against it. If nothing else, the scientific community would effectively police its own. What bothers me is that the law is, as I said, being made by people who don't even understand the science they are regulating. I'm not demanding that our lawmakers be geneticists, but something other then lawyers would be nice for a change. Actually, something other then idiots would be nice for a change, but that's a different rant.

What gets me is how many politicians are swayed by the religious angles of genetic research and still insist that there is a seperation of church and state. (Right up there with one of the S.C. State Congressmen arguing that tattooing should remain illegal in S.C. because the Bible says so.)

Kierthos

Re:Complexity vs. unknowability (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136161)

One thing that bothered me about Gattaca-style testing... let's say you give a blood sample. Fine and dandy. What if, however, there are a few cancerous or mutated cells in there, say just enough to throw off a genetic test? Sure, it might warn you that you need to take your anti-cancer pill, or cut down on the hard radiation in the workplace, but wouldn't this also reduce the number of people available for the "high profile" jobs in the Dystopian Utopia that is 'Gattaca'?

Kierthos

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136162)

I would, but that would be redundant. Okay, define learning as something other then memories of facts and processed data? You can't. You don't learn that you shouldn't touch hot stove elements until you observe the deletorious effects. (In my case, it was watching someone else burn themselves accidentally that made me never want to touch a hot stove element.) You learn to read by association of letters with sounds and you learn what the words mean by association of the words themselves with pictures or ideas.

What else is there? (Yes, I know, I'm leaving myself open for all kinds of things about racial memory and scores of other ideas, but this is also known as trying to foster discussion. BTW, I don't believe in racial memory...)

Kierthos

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136163)

Good point. Evolution can be grossly defined as an organism's changes in response to its' environment (presuming that the environmental changes are are not so relatively drastic to cause the immediate death of the organism).

Humans, by and large, currently alter much of our environment to suit us. Too hot? Air conditioning. Too cold? Central heating. We can install air and water filters to insure purity, and we can add vitamins to our diet to insure proper nutrition. We aren't evolving any more.

Of course, given that you usually can't see evolutionary changes in less then a couple dozen lifetimes of the organism in question...

Kierthos

Re:Somewhat comforting.... (2)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136164)

Does the fact that the human genome is mapped mean that the geneticists automatically know what everything does? Clearly not... I can look at a map and not know where everything is, because I can't focus on the entire map. And a lot of the map and the results are still being debated over.

Because there isn't enough genetic matter (or combinations of DNA sequences) to map all human characteristics, it must mean that there is some genetic "Dark Matter" equivalent. Or, well, I forget the term, but there is a part of the DNA sequence in humans that doesn't seem to do anything. Might be that once you get past a certain stage in embryo development, parts of the genetic code aren't needed any more. How often does the human genetic code need to be "told" that a human is supposed to have five fingers on each hand, or two eyes? Or that your eye colour is blue (or brown, green, whatever?)

As for insurance companies, it all depends. If gene therapy becomes widespread, insurance companies will probably end up covering a variety of procedures, but only once it is an "accepted medical treatment". I could just as easily see them raising life insurance rates on someone who could have a genetic ailment cured but refuses to do so, thereby increasing the likelyhood of injury or ailment.

*shrug*

Kierthos

Re:This guy sure has the smarts gene (2)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136165)

Journalists have to write to that level as most, if not all of their readers don't understand the science behind the article. I mean, I consider myself a fairly smart person, and 99% of Scientific American is above my head. Similarly, I can't debug most programs worth a darn, fix cars beyond an oil change, or cook very well. I also only have a layman's understanding of genetics (hah! I did get back on topic!). Therefore, reading an article where the average word has 12 syllables is only going to confuse me.

But if it is put in terms that I do understand, I can eventually, if I am interested enough, build on it by reading other articles.

What should bother you more is that the laws concerning genetics research are made by people who not only don't understand it, but oftentimes refuse to try and understand it.

Kierthos

Re:How can he calm fears Gattaca will come to pass (2)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136166)

Yeah, but people aren't being denied any but the most menial jobs because they aren't "perfect". Gattaca had anyone who wasn't in prime physical and mental condition being relegated to either janitor status or being pretty much cast out of society. We're not there... yet.

Kierthos

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (3)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136167)

1) Because we don't know what we're doing yet. Tamper not with forces you don't understand.

2) We don't even understand the map fully yet. Yeah, that little bit of genetic code that could get rid of Type 2 diabetes in 8.3% of the people suffering from it could also increase their chances of developing some form of cancer. If you can't understand the instructions, don't mess with the recipe.

3) Education and genetic engineering are far different then you pre-suppose. Education is really nothing more then memorization of existing facts. You "learn" that 2+2=4. You "learn" what verbs are. Genetic engineering, on the other hand, is changing the basic building blocks of life to suit a "whim". A whim not to have diabetes, or to have green eyes, or whatever.

Now, I'm not a neo-Luddite. If there were a safe way to genetic engineer things so I didn't need glasses, didn't have asthma, and didn't stand a decent chance of getting some sort of cancer within the next 25 years, I'd go for it. But at this point in the game, not even the people who actually what the hell they are talking about are ready to take that step. AFAIK, they're still in the 'experiment on white mice' stage. Look at the sheep clones, for one example. The clone is genetically as old as the original, and right now they can't fix that. Do you really want anyone playing with human genetics at this stage where we still don't undertand it?

Yes, I realize that everyone, to some extent, practices their own genetic manipulations in the dating/marriage scene. But it's one thing to marry that cute redhead so your kids can have red hair. It's another thing entirely to try and alter DNA without knowing for absolute certain what will happen.

Kierthos

Re:Let's not get ahead of ourselves (4)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 13 years ago | (#136168)

I believe in the Spider Robinson viewpoint. We are not our genes. Our genes may define how tall or short we are, the colour of our hair (sans bleaching or dying it), the colour of our eyes, etc. But a person is more then the physical characteristics of their body. Our memories and experiences make us people.

Sure, gene therapy and other genetic manipulations may produce healthier and prettier people. But they won't necessarily be better people. (Perhaps I should say more ethical people, but my ethics are guarenteed to match anyone else's so I hereby refuse to use my ethics as a standard to judge other people. And I'm not moderating any more either. :P )

Kierthos

Re:Somewhat comforting.... (1)

Ringwraith (230940) | more than 13 years ago | (#136169)

If you've read Darwin's Radio, you know that the DNA sequence that"doesn't seem to do anything" codes for the SHIVA virus. Duh.

Re:I was with them till the end. (2)

Bug2000 (235500) | more than 13 years ago | (#136170)

I have exactly the same feeling. The article was captivating until it talks about God. I'm not saying that this is uninteresting though, I'm just surprised that someone who seems to be quite clever opposes science to God in such a radical way, like there can only be those 2 possibilities. Unless he thinks as God as a concept which has nothing to do with that one mankind created (too human a god to be true sorry), I'm not with him. But hey, someone said last year that the need for God was in our genes and my gut feeling is that, if it is the case, it is not a recessive gene! Maybe it is useful after all. Maybe if people did not believe in God, they would find no meaning in life and commit suicide.

And someone else has written a very nice article [godless.org] about how science cannot reject the fact that if God exists, he can interfere with all experiments and make them look like natural. It's actually a serious article.

Re:Complexity vs. unknowability (2)

Bug2000 (235500) | more than 13 years ago | (#136171)

But what combination of factors causes a child in one strict, oppressive household to become a high-school dropout, while a child in another becomes a focused overachieving genius? If you want to raise the latter, what help does science offer? There may be no way to even measure the subtleties that nudge a child one way or the other, let alone use those measurements to provide any meaningful guidance to prospective parents.

In short, nowadays most scientists agree on the fact that the world is not deterministic but chaotic, which means that even with the smallest error delta in two measurements at instant t, at instant t + x, you may end up with two completely different measurements, and that applies fully to genes and their expression. Chaos is a very comfortable place for God to hide if you measure God by the difference between universal knowledge and scientific knowledge.

How can he calm fears Gattaca will come to pass... (1)

Anthony Boyd (242971) | more than 13 years ago | (#136172)

...if much of Gattaca has already come to pass?

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

Anthony Boyd (242971) | more than 13 years ago | (#136173)

Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass?

Have you actually seen Gattaca?

By not engaging in it, we're cheating both ourselves and our children, depriving them of a brighter future.

By not engaging in genetic engineering, we deprive our children of a brighter future? Like in that movie you mentioned?

Re:How can he calm fears Gattaca will come to pass (2)

Anthony Boyd (242971) | more than 13 years ago | (#136174)

Hmmm. You might read more /. Here are some of the stories over the past few months:

Companies lay claim to your DNA [slashdot.org]
UK DNA database now tracks innocent people [slashdot.org]
Railroad company violates civil rights in genetic tests [slashdot.org]
British citizens denied coverage based on unapproved genetic screening [slashdot.org]
British government allows genetic screening [slashdot.org]

You see, when it comes to Gattaca, you are right that "we're not there... yet." But I only said that much of Gattaca is already happening. With the British government allowing insurers to deny coverage based on genetics, it is only a very few small steps away from having an underclass that can't get health insurance, while genetically lucky (and soon, engineered) people form a privileged class. In my eyes, Gattaca is already happening.

Skeptical about the skeptic (1)

Jagin (243283) | more than 13 years ago | (#136175)

I don't know about this guy.. gene therapy IS big and WILL have massive impacts on humanity in the years to come. Just because we haven't nailed down how everything works doesn't mean it won't happen. Gene therapy may not prevent cancer, but helping to stop it is big enough news for me to get excited about it. Just my $.02

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

jhantin (252660) | more than 13 years ago | (#136176)

I agree that gene therapy, germ-line genetic editing, and even the oft-maligned eugenics have great possibilities-- but they also have great risks. The phobia, even near hysteria, generated in the public about these technologies is likely due to journalists' and authors' over-dramatization [jurassicpark.com] of these risks. I think we shouldn't categorically rule them out, but rather explore carefully, and have respect for the risks.

What risks lurk in germ-line control? If genomes become too homogeneous, that leaves the whole population vulnerable to, say, that one new virus mutation that exploits a "security hole" in the now common genetic code. If some unforeseen bug in a custom gene, or its unexpected interaction with some other gene variant, causes major problems 20, 40, or more years into someone's life, how can we reasonably assign risk assumption, liability, or even just cost of resulting medical care? In essence, we'd be borrowing the problems of software engineering, compounded by working in a system that's haphazardly constructed and mind-bogglingly complex, with no documentation and only binaries to study!

Eugenics are not inherently evil-- for example, a number of states have premarital genetic screening to warn potential parents of the risks they face if one or both of them carry a deleterious or seriously maladaptive recessive (hemophilia A [nih.gov] [carried on X, so not recessive in XY or XYY case], Tay-Sachs [nih.gov] , sickle-cell anemia [nih.gov] , etc.) the couple may choose to adopt, or to combine one partner's genes with a known good set taken from a gamete bank. Alternatively, if they decide to roll the dice on their own genes, amniocentesis [aomc.org] can identify when these variants combine, and may lead parents to abort rather than allow a lifetime of suffering. Misguided application of eugenics, however, can certainly be evil, as can misguided application of other technologies-- the potential for evil is obvious in weapons of mass destruction, but what about remote sensing, psychology, and mass media being used for surreptitious surveillance, spin doctoring, and manufactured culture?

In short, there is immense power in genetic engineering, whether by genetic editing or eugenic breeding, and that power can be used for good or ill. Whatever we do, though, we need to do with both eyes open.

actions and interactions (1)

dastardlysheep (254939) | more than 13 years ago | (#136178)

The human genome is an imense piece of work. There is a huge amount of data available and each gene requires a huge amount of time to find and verify. The plant genome, Arabidopsis thaliana, was completed late 2000 and still 80% of the 25,000 genes are unproven, they may look right to the bioinformaticians and gene modellers, but real laboratory scientists are needed to verify that this really is the right gene. This takes at least 3 years of postgrad work, to characterise the gene, and a possible function. This is even before you start trying to characterise a mutation. A mutation might be a small change in the sequence, a substitution of one of the bases in the DNA which produces a very subtly different protein. Alternatively the mutation may occur in other sequences close to the gene that will cause the gene to behave differently, very subtle changes in the promoter and enhancer elements. These may take many man months or years to identify. These changes are gross and ugly within the maze of complex interactions that are cells. One very small change in an upstream element may mean that two molecules do not interact at quite the right time following exposure to a certain toxic chemical. This means that another protein isn't activated which doesn't induce a phosphorylation cascade that interacts with another pathway and causes a major response. Things are too complicated at the moment for anyone to understand. Mendelian genetics is within the grasp of everyone, mutant genes make mutant proteins and things either happen or not. What the scientists can't work on, except in a few rare cases, is where proteins interact in complex manners and where a large number of proteins complex together. How does a tiny genetic change affect anything... can this be traced. Which proteins are affected. If there are ~60,000 proteins in the soup we affectionately call our cells how can the exact pattern of changes be followed? Computers can solve some of these questions - who has the most powerful computers in the world? To really answer these questions many millions of man hours will be needed to characterise each pathway and interaction in detail. Scientists are trying this in yeast, a very simple cell, and the amount of background junk that is always present because naturally certain surfaces will always bind - makes the whole subject rather difficult and complicated. Single genes in breast cancer, colour blindness and other "simple" diseases will be characterised, and the affected people will be treated, cured, or otherwise helped (this is why pharma is interested). Complicated cancers, emotional states and orientations, attitudes, and polygenic traits will remain a very difficult problem for many many years. Add to this the subtleties and nuances of small changes in the regulation of a single protein and the whole picture becomes very complicated, and in my opinion can never be solved completely. There are too many variables in the environment for all possible stimuli and variables within the cell to be understood... I fear the abuse of our sequences by insurance companies, who will tax us for what may be incorrectly described, published and understood. I fear the abuse of our sequences by companies who patent the genes, and patent the cures to expensive chemicals that can cure our cancers, diseases and mental problems. I am not who I am because of my genes. They make me tall, male, blue eyed. Am I fat because of my genes, am I predisposed to working in front of a computer, liking whisky, enjoying airsports .... I don't know and I don't believe anyone who believes that they know so !

Re:Let's not get ahead of ourselves (2)

Pescatore (303409) | more than 13 years ago | (#136184)

"I believe in the Spider Robinson viewpoint. We are not our genes. Our genes may define how tall or short we are, the colour of our hair (sans bleaching or dying it), the colour of our eyes, etc. But a person is more then the physical characteristics of their body. Our memories and experiences make us people."

The question, I think, is how our mind and body relate to each other. Our mood can change our body chemistry and vice versa, for example someone tells you a joke, make you happy, make you produce endorphine.. or you take some strong medication that make you depressed. Our genes decide how well/bad this process works. Could I get gene therapy to make me produce a constant flow of endorphines, thus making me always feel good and see everything in a brighter perspective and also making me remember more good things rather than bad, which in turn would perhaps make me act in another way than I would affecting my personality?

Another thing, that I'm not sure is scientifically proven, is "genetic memory" for example someone who has a transplantation takes on personality traits from the donator. In some cases people have claimed they remember things from their donators past life. If that's true, it doesn't prove the memory was in the genes though.

So I don't think there is a clear border between our body and our mind/soul/whatever.

Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (2)

sharkticon (312992) | more than 13 years ago | (#136186)

Why is there this huge phobia about genetically engineering the human race? What is so wrong about seeking to be better than you are?

After all, we go to school in order to become better than we were - to expand our horizons, to be able to accomplish and learn new things. Through life we're taught that it's good to seek to better yourself, to always strive towards a higher goal. Hell, it's the American Dream! ;)

So surely genetic engineering ourselves is nothing more than the ultimate realisation of this wish?

By not engaging in it, we're cheating both ourselves and our children, depriving them of a brighter future.

Unfortunately there are far too many cultural forces out there which are only too happy to spread fear about new technologies. By linking genetic engineering to movements like eugenics they have managed to make something which could benefit everyone into the next big evil. Eugenics was evil, and it is my shame that we in this country practised it, but as long as the benefits are spread to all, then genetic engineering holds the promise of a freedom from the myriad of inherited diseases that kill or cripple millions each year.

And that's even before we move beyond our current capabilities! Just by eliminating flaws like disease and infirmity, we increase our race's fitness massively, making our children better equipped to deal with a world that changes faster and faster each year. And as we move away from the Earth and into new environments, genetic engineering will allow us to adapt ourselves to fit those environments, meaning the human race can thrive for ever...

FUD aside, how can this be a bad thing?

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (3)

sharkticon (312992) | more than 13 years ago | (#136187)

Because we don't know what we're doing yet. Tamper not with forces you don't understand.

That sounds like a surefire recipe for holding back progress... :) If people had never decided to play around with things they didn't understand, science would be in a sorry state.

Sure, we need to be careful, but we shouldn't lose out on an opportunity because there's a one in a million chance something will go wrong. After all, what are the odds of that happening?

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

sentientbrendan (316150) | more than 13 years ago | (#136188)

Gattaca was about prejudice and the responses to genetic engineering. If we start altering people genetic makeup anytime soon it will probably be through selecting which chromosomes they inherit (the method they seemed to use in Gattaca) which we will do based off of our limited knowledge of the effects of specific genes within those chromosomes. This is knowledge we gained through studies of families that had those genes, not knowledge we gained because we actually understand the machine language or even the princeples it relies on (I doubt evolution would have produced object oriented code in our genes). The end result is that we will have a bunch of people who are *probably* better off due to genetic engineering, which is what happened in Gattaca. The consequence of these improvements will be a massive loss in genetic variability, something essential to our survival of which our species already has little. I assume, since this is slashdot, that others have already brought up the issue of copyright. As bad as software and music companies are about copyright biotech companies are infinitely worse. The MPAA isn't actually responsible for anyones death but the biotech companies most certainly are. Most know that the biotech companies have jacking up the prices of medicines (aids treatments being the most infamous) everywhere and lobbying for more copyright protection to insure that foreign countries don't produce cheap versions of their products. There have also been disquieting reports that these companies have been testing dangerous drugs on large populations in other countries and fixing trials of new drugs for the FDA in this one. These are going to be the distributers of the new treatments that are going to come from genetic engineering. We already know they are only willing to sell to the rich, that they are unscrupulous to the extreme. Sure genetic engineering has a certain potential to benefit human kind, and maybe someday it will, but not until we actually understand genetics, and not until the bulk of these technologies are in the public domain.

Complexity vs. unknowability (1)

koreth (409849) | more than 13 years ago | (#136190)

While the article has some good points to make, it suffers from a common flaw in arguments on this subject: the assumption that something that's too complex to model today is too complex to model, period.

It's certainly true that susceptibility to some diseases, along with other inherited traits, is determined by the interaction of tens or even hundreds of genes, and today we don't have the knowledge or the ability to factor all of them together and come up with a more precise picture of what's likely to happen to an individual. However, I think it's naive to assume that we'll never have the knowledge and ability to do so.

One obvious limitation we see today is the amount of computing power required to do the required multidimensional analysis and figure out which genes interact with which others to produce a particular effect. But all indications are that Moore's Law will be in effect for a while longer, and even if it peters out, the problem seems parallelizable enough that someone may eventually build a system or a network to churn through all the raw data. The United Devices cancer-cure project is a step in that direction.

Combine a few orders of magnitude of additional computing power with a vastly larger set of raw data and highly-refined techniques for reading and manipulating DNA -- none of which seems out of reach -- along with a public perception that biology is destiny, and something like Gattaca becomes quite plausible. Or if not that extreme, then certainly health plans rejecting applicants due to DNA and genetic screening for certain high-risk jobs ("We only want people who can get by on four hours of sleep").

What's more likely beyond our ability to ever comprehend is nurture, not nature, and ultimately that'll limit how precisely we'll be able to mold ourselves. A hundred years from now you'll probably be able to screen or engineer your kid's genes to give her a 25-point IQ boost or whatever amount of intelligence ends up being genetically determined. But what combination of factors causes a child in one strict, oppressive household to become a high-school dropout, while a child in another becomes a focused overachieving genius? If you want to raise the latter, what help does science offer? There may be no way to even measure the subtleties that nudge a child one way or the other, let alone use those measurements to provide any meaningful guidance to prospective parents.

We can, and IMO should, try to figure out everything that can be figured out about how our bodies tick. We can, and in some cases should, use that knowledge to improve the species. In the end I think we'll find it impossible to reduce ourselves to simple, predictable automatons, and that's just fine with me. Without the ability to surprise ourselves every once in a while, life in our custom-tailored bodies would get pretty dull.

Re:Somewhat comforting.... (1)

GreyPoopon (411036) | more than 13 years ago | (#136191)

At the end of the day as long as you don't have to take the genetic tests I don't see a problem. You can keep paying the higher rate because of your family history or you could take the tests and hope they come out negative. On average people would be better off taking the tests (insurance companies can provide cheaper insurance if there is less uncertainty).

I totally agree -- as long as the tests are elective. But I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the big insurance companies requested to have DNA testing included with other blood tests performed just after birth.

GreyPoopon
--

Re:Somewhat comforting.... (2)

GreyPoopon (411036) | more than 13 years ago | (#136192)

Does the fact that the human genome is mapped mean that the geneticists automatically know what everything does? Clearly not... I can look at a map and not know where everything is, because I can't focus on the entire map. And a lot of the map and the results are still being debated over.

Agreed. The thing the worries me most is that people will THINK they understand things and will use that information incorrectly. Of course, this kind of thing was happening long before genetics research. I guess we don't always learn until we make a mistake.

Might be that once you get past a certain stage in embryo development, parts of the genetic code aren't needed any more.

Interesting. Somebody mod this parent up.

I could just as easily see them raising life insurance rates on someone who could have a genetic ailment cured but refuses to do so, thereby increasing the likelyhood of injury or ailment.

I don't have as much of a problem with this as I would with concessions against people who have genetic preconditions towards something that is not curable. For example, diabetes runs in my family (Type 2). If I'm found to have enough of the 15 or so gene sequences linked to diabetes, my insurance company could decide to drastically increase my rates. Or health care could require that I sign a clause that relieves them of the responsibility of paying for typical diabetic treatment items. All of this could happen, even though I might never become diabetic because I exercise and eat carefully. They could even choose to monitor my exercise and diet to use that as a condition of my insurance. This is where my largest fear comes in. Actually, I fear more for my children at this point than myself.

GreyPoopon
--

Somewhat comforting.... (4)

GreyPoopon (411036) | more than 13 years ago | (#136193)

It's kind of nice to know that there are at least some rational arguments to using genes to "classify" people early on. In the last four months, I've had all kinds of thoughts about how insurance companies would charge higher rates for people with certain genes, etc.

To add to this article, remember that even though human genome mapping has been considered complete, reports have since been released indicating that there just isn't enough genetic matter there to effectively map all human characteristics, and that there most be something else that contributes. It might be some of the latent DNA sequences that are considered to be trash, or something else within the proteins themselves. All of this adds up to some pretty big arguments should any of us enounter "gene prejudice."

GreyPoopon
--

I still consider DNA as merely a blueprint (3)

errorlevel (415281) | more than 13 years ago | (#136194)

Hopefully I'm not pulling all of this out of my caboose. What I learned in highschool is that DNA is a blueprint. That's all I learned about it. I did learn about Gregor Mendel (read the article if you need a refreshing on who I'm talking about) and I couldn't figure out how such strict rules about dominant and recessive genes could produce the variety of species we have.

If dominant and recessive genes really were so binary in nature (D | R = D, R | R = R, D | D = D, etc) then unless there was more imbreeding going on, all recessive genes would've eventually gone away and we would all be the same.

Alas, like the article says, this isn't the case. It is a rather horrifying thought that everything can be known about you through your DNA. It is also a rather upsetting thought that all of your choices that you make in life could be pre-determined by your DNA. Tests do show (as stated by the article), however, that a persons environment has a large affect on how s/he turns out.

It is for this reason that I think of DNA as merely being a blueprint. Just like the blueprint to a house, you can view it and see how it is supposed to be, but the houses environment plays a large role in how it turns out (method used to prevent water from coming in the basement, type of roofing used, etc.).

We are all zombies (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136195)

There is a general misunderstanding about the nature-nurture debate. We are all zombies in a sense, because our conscious is as the rest of our body -- automatic. The problem is in trying to separate mind from brain. You are your brain, and you are its conscious and unconscious processing. One must look no further than the fact that in the laboratory scientists can directly alter decisions of monkeys:

"The ability to predict and influence choices provides compelling evidence that choices are deterministic. Certainly, to the extent that neurons will not discharge unless they are depolarized by other neurons, brain states can be determined naturally only by earlier brain states. However, does such apparently Laplacian determinism grant as much prediction and influence as the evidence seems to indicate? Perhaps not. Complex dynamic systems that are far from equilibrium are usually not predictable. The brain is without doubt such a dynamical system that produces behaviour with the signature of chaos. In fact, some have argued that cognition is at least as dynamical as it is computational. Thus, the states of the brain, like the clouds in the sky, happen because of earlier states of the system.

But brain states and behaviour can be as unpredictable as the weather. If current research is correct that choices derive from states of the brain, and states of the brain, although deterministic, are not entirely predictable then it follows that choices may be made that are unexpected. Certainly the world is an unpredictable place, and it seems almost self-evident that the behaviour of most creatures, including humans, can be unpredictable. As we survey this landscape, we should realize that all of the neurophysiological results that we have reviewed were obtained after weeks of training monkeys to perform rigidly constrained tasks in impoverished environments, quite unlike the real world. Accordingly, conclusions drawn from the results of these experiments should be generalized to real-world situations with caution.

Still, the results that I have reviewed seem relevant to understanding freedom of choice. If we ask whether we are free, the kind of answer we want may not be possible. A better question to ask is: do we make choices? The answer is certainly yes. Do our choices have any influence on our relationship to our peers and the environment? Again, yes. Are our choices constrained? Yes, because of natural law and historical circumstances, but not entirely because of random chance and deterministic chaos. Consider a game of cards. To begin a fair game, the cards are shuffled to introduce randomness that produces unpredictability and lack of control over what cards are drawn. Once the hands are dealt, your freedom to play a certain card is limited by the rules of the game, the hand you are dealt, and your knowledge of strategy and tactics. But within these limitations you have many choices to react to, or anticipate what other players do both the astute tactics and the blockheaded blunders. The moment of deliberation about which card to play seems to embody all of the freedom one could hope for. The fact that such deliberation is accomplished by your brain takes away none of the joy of the game."

-- The Neural Basis for Deciding, Choosing, and Acting. - Nature Reviews Neuroscience; Jan, 2001

As we see above, you are not only defined by your genes, but your environment as well. If I were to teleport you to the 12th century, you would be a different person, with different actions, thoughts and beliefs - at least in regard to possible worlds hypotheses.

And yes, it is obvious that the content of the information that you process would affect who you are -- not only in the mistaken separation of mind and body.

Re:Skeptical about the skeptic (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136196)

I don't recall seeing him deny this in the essay.

Re:I was with them till the end. (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136197)

He's talking about Dawkins and his gene as the ultimate replicator hypothesis and the irrational belief surrounding it that has now been discredited.

REF: Encyclopedia of Life Sciences, Selection: Units and Levels.

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136198)

"is really nothing more then memorization of existing facts"

Read this and say that again:

http://www.neuro.uoregon.edu/ionmain/htdocs/grdb ro ch/plast.html

Re:This guy sure has the smarts gene (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136199)

This is emphatically not the case. Is "gene that is correlated with a 2 point increase in IQ" too hard to understand? They don't even need to know the formal definition of covariance, because most humans can understand the general concept regardless.

While we're at it, we should also blame the scientists who let this misunderstanding propagate because it makes it much easier for them to get research dollars.

Re:I was with them till the end. (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136200)

Go read Plato, Aristotle. Are they postmodern as well?

Questions of epistemology in philosophy are thousands of years old on paper, and probably even older, albeit in less well thought out forms.

Re:I was with them till the end. (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136201)

Read Carnap, Popper, Quine.

"The process is not based on faith. The process is based on observation."

No one said it wasn't. Observations can be faulty, which leads to a philosophy of science based on hypothesis building based on verification, falsification, and prediction.

Science is a process conducted by humans who aren't supremely rational beings.

Re:Complexity vs. unknowability (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136202)

"While the article has some good points to make, it suffers from a common flaw in arguments on this subject: the assumption that something that's too complex to model today is too complex to model, period"

"<i>FRANCIS S. COLLINS is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

LOWELL WEISS is an executive at the Morino Institute in Reston, Virginia.

KATHY HUDSON is the assistant director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.</i>"

Do you see why I'd be a little skeptical in believing that assertion?

Re:Response from Dawkins (1)

illaqueate (416118) | more than 13 years ago | (#136203)

Straw man, as that's not what the author meant.

Re:I still consider DNA as merely a blueprint (1)

fifthchild (443035) | more than 13 years ago | (#136205)

"If dominant and recessive genes really were so binary in nature (D | R = D, R | R = R, D | D = D, etc) then unless there was more imbreeding going on, all recessive genes would've eventually gone away and we would all be the same. "

Dominanace and recessiveness is not so black and white. You also get cases where two genes exhert their effect on the organism (ie. a white and a red cow having offspring that have patches of both white and red hide).
The generally accepted theory these days is that evolution is not purely caused by either environment or by random genetic change, but by a combination of the two; ie a random genetic change that happens to be beneficial to that particular organism in that particular environment. This leads to the organism having a higher survival and therefore reproductive capacity and ensures the propogation of the 'new' gene in sucessive generations.

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

factor-C (448252) | more than 13 years ago | (#136206)

IIRC, the sheep is genetically as old as the original because the quality of an organisms DNA deteriorates with age. This is why your body is unable to repair itself perfectly forever. As your DNA deteriorates, your body loses the ability to perfectly regenerate its tissue (i.e. skin) and the effects of aging set it. This is not something that can be "fixed" by better technology (just as you can't "fix" a low-resolution image into a higher resolution image). Scientists need to find a way to extract DNA from sources that do not deteriorate (i.e. sex cells). Alternatively, people could preserve some genetic samples of themselves when they are at an optimal age

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

factor-C (448252) | more than 13 years ago | (#136207)

The argument that diversity in DNA promotes survival of a species is no longer true of the human race. Technological and social evolution have supplanted physical adaptation as the means by which our species ensures its survival. Humans no longer experience positive evolution (evolution promoting "beneficial" traits) because we no longer operate (in the physical sense) on a "survival of the fittest" basis.

While the sickle-cell anemia example cited is true, I would liken that method of dealing with malaria to a particularly crufty software hack. It gets the job done, but there are many better ways, and the "side effects" of sickle-cell anemia make it particularly undesirable.

It's easy to eliminate a known gene, but a lot harder to design and implement a brand new one to meet a new hazard.

You can't eliminate an organism's gene (without creating a different organism). You can only control the organism's genotype. Anyway, I think that it would be an unnecessary strain on resources to attempt to homogenize the human genotype. Most likely genetics will be used to control only key genes that determine hereditary diseases/complications/conditions.

The rate at which the environment is changing (thanks to ourselves) is so great that humans cannot cope by relying on natural genetic evolutio

Hardware and Software = Wit and Wisdom (1)

SloppyElvis (450156) | more than 13 years ago | (#136208)

Here is an analogy that I remembered as I read the good doctor's article; I believe /.'ers will relate.

So far as DNA influences our lives and behaviors can be likened to the extent that different hardware platforms effect the performance and behavior of a computer. In this analogy, your life experience (nurture) could be likened to the software on that computer. I think few would argue that ASCI white with nothing but Solitaire loaded to it would be a very useful machine, and a nurture buff would be hard-pressed to load ASCI white's actual software to their Comodore 64.

RPGers have been aware of the difference between wit and wisdom for years. Why is it that Nature vs Nurture remains a debate? I would think that anyone who has grown older to find that they are slower but wiser would figure out just how our brains and our minds interact.

Re:This guy sure has the smarts gene (1)

adalger (458844) | more than 13 years ago | (#136210)

It bothers me that laws are made at all concerning genetic research. It bothers me that there even exist people who refuse to try to understand anything. And it bothers me that our educational system in the U.S. is so weak that the average reader of newspapers is expected to have retained less than the first 20% of all that education.

That the laws are being passed by people who don't understand and won't try to understand is merely a symptom. Those people aren't elected by having a clue or making an effort to pass reasonable and useful laws, they are elected by convincing people to vote for them. The dumber those voters are, the easier it is for those people to keep getting re-elected while passing useless, misguided, or even harmful laws. This makes meaningful educational reform anywhere from unlikely to impossible under our current system.

Lest I seem to be pushing a program rather than commenting on an article, I admit that most people in any country aren't likely to be interested in or capable of understanding the details of advanced genetic theory. However, oversimplification to the point of inaccuracy is still inexcusable. Just because people wouldn't understand the truth, that doesn't make it acceptable to lie to them.

Re:Bad Christian Science (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 13 years ago | (#136211)

this quote: Can the study of genetics and molecular biology really account for the universal intrinsic knowledge of right and wrong common to all human cultures in all eras (though all of us have trouble acting on this knowledge)? Shows to me how truly blind religious scientists can be. By believing in one absolute (all powerfull god-daddy) one starts to assume that there are other absolutes to be believed in. So is cannibalism an absolute wrong? Guess not, because many cultures saw nothing wrong with it. Same with genocide. And since he goes on in the same paragraph to tell us about the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, lets not forget that they thought that a teacher sodomising a student was A-ok (it thought him to be manly they said), you'll have trouble finding someone today who won't have faith in the belief that peodophilia isn't a "usniversal wrong". Please don't mix religion with science, it makes both look like fools.

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

notext (461158) | more than 13 years ago | (#136212)

That sounds like a surefire recipe for holding back progress... :) If people had never decided to play around with things they didn't understand, science would be in a sorry state. Yes and you're playing with peoples lives. You decide to fool around with someones DNA that doesn't show the consequeces for some time. Before you know it, it has spread through so much of the population you are unable to control it. There is a difference between developing nuclear technology and dropping a bomb in the middle of a city to see the effects it has on everyone. With DNA its even tougher for you don't know what will happen years form now when interDNA-1 has offspring with interDNA-2 which creates something you could have never forseen.

Re:Why shouldn't Gattaca come to pass? (1)

notext (461158) | more than 13 years ago | (#136213)

hrmm shoulda used the preview button

Re:Somewhat comforting.... (1)

Alessandor (461200) | more than 13 years ago | (#136214)

Might be that once you get past a certain stage in embryo development, parts of the genetic code aren't needed any more.

The article says this:
(...)fetal hemoglobin genes turn off a few months after birth and the adult hemoglobin genes take over(...)

So I'd say yes it does. But these genes are likeley not to be counted as trash DNA.

Re:I still consider DNA as merely a blueprint (1)

Alessandor (461200) | more than 13 years ago | (#136215)

Also there's the ever-recurring "da*n that doesn't work out" and the "whoops that isn't specified in the blueprints - so let's get creative" and the "sheesh, did I overlook that?" Got all of those in my house :(
*grunt* *grunt* *mumble* *mumble*

Re:Complexity vs. unknowability (1)

Firke (461828) | more than 13 years ago | (#136216)

You are making a common mistake concerning the meanings of "deterministic" and "chaotic". The behavior you describe (small differences in inputs causing potentially large differences in outputs) is that of a "non-linear" system. The compliment of that would be (unsurprisingly) a "linear system." A "deterministic" system is one in which the state at time t+1 is entirely determined by the state at time t. With the exception of quantum mechanics (in which random events do occur), the world is a deterministic system. It is also a "chaotic" system. Those two terms are not mutually exclusive. A chaotic system is one which never settles into a resting state or a simple pattern. "Chaotic" is closely tied to "non-linear", in that most chaotic systems are described by non-linear differential equations (or difference equations). However, differential equations are arguably the quintessential deterministic description, as they describe what is going to happen next as a function of the current state.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?