Monday, September 22, 2008

Sept 24 Ridley Ch 12, 13, 14 (Self-Assembly, Pre-History, Immortality)

I had never thought about bugs developing upside down before reading about the Hox genes but now that I read it, it makes perfect sense that their anatomy just flipped over so they walk on the other side of the body from elephants for example. This strikes me as quite funny because I cannot see how one alignment could be more fit than another. Although, the fact that both have prevailed contemporaneously suggests neither was more fit than the other; some species just followed one path and many another.

On a completely different note, I am not sure how I feel about this telomerase issue. Ridley seems to suggest that advances in understanding about telomerase and increased ability to manipulate it could lead to enhanced cell replication, extended longevity, and maybe something just short of immortality. I often hate to throw religious arguments about when so many scientists are around, but as my faith strongly influences my take on ethics, I feel I must bring it up again here. To what extent in science do you reach the point where you are playing God? If life were meant to continue forever on earth, then would our already impressive systems not include code for such properties? I think we all have a natural tendency to yearn for and seek after eternal life; we just look for it in the wrong place. We are not meant to live forever in this world, but the next. While I recognize God’s gifts to us in the knowledge and intelligence of scientists working diligently to unleash the magical world of telomerase or find cures for cancers or undertake any number of life-prolonging activities, I think we must also seek after our vocations and discern whether these advances will truly benefit humanity or if we could better spend our time helping with some other dilemma. If we discover a cure for cancer, we will surely discover a new malady to plague our societies and kill off our populations. People were not meant to live forever any more than a flower is meant to bloom for eternity.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sept 22 Ridley Ch 9, 10, 11 (Disease, Stress, Personality)

The experiment with men and women choosing which t-shirt smelled best after others had slept in them raises some interesting questions for me. Perhaps this is because I am usually very conscious about odors or perhaps because this is not my first introduction to this particular experiment as I heard about a similar experiment (maybe even the same experiment) when I was in high school. In any case, I find it very intriguing that people preferred t-shirts of those with very different MHC genotypes than themselves. Does this work with other genes as well? If they say that opposites attract, is this because people with different genes smell drastically different? Does it only work with the MHC genotype sequence? Which genes makes us attracted to one another in the first place? One of my questions about choosing a mate based on strength or perceived fitness is how is it that the ‘ugly’ or unfit people still manage to reproduce? This can offer some insight into why people who may appear physically unattractive somehow find mates if they are ‘attractive’ in odor or personality thereby making their genes more ‘attractive.’ Of course, as the two following chapters pointed out, personality is as much a reflection of genetics as it is of external factors because the brain has such a complex reaction network of chemical and electrical signals. If we are attracted to someone based on their personality then, are we really attracted to the environmental characteristics in which they choose to surround themselves? Maybe even these, as the mice with levers example illustrates, are affected by some chemical reactions stimulating positive or negative response to stimuli and therefore also genetically determined.