Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Oct 1 Ridley Ch 18, 19, 20 (Cures, Prevention, Politics)

At the very end of his chapter on using genetic testing to develop and administer cures, Ridley states, “Genetic diagnosis followed by conventional cure is probably the genome’s greatest boon to medicine.” (257) I think I have to agree with him here. At this time I cannot wholeheartedly say that I support using genetic engineering to modify humans so they are resistant to particular afflictions. The effects of genetically modified crops demonstrate why we should proceed with caution. As Ridley declares, “Roundup-resistant rape may be eco-unfriendly to the extent that it encourages herbicide use or spreads its resistance to weeds.” (253) I think most genetic engineering is just a short-term solution to one or two specific problems rather than looking at long-term alternatives. The effects of genetic engineering are still largely unknown, and even if you can make an organism resistant to one particular malady, that just exerts pressure for co-evolution of the parasite or virus or what-have-you such that you will only have another problem down the line. Ridley urges against conservative stances such as my own saying, “I believe we are in danger of being too squeamish and too cautious in using knowledge about the genes that influence both [coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease], and we therefore stand at risk of committing the moral error of denying people access to life-saving research.” (259) To combat this front though, I again question Ridley – at what point do we draw the line? People are not meant to live forever. I think these are difficult questions indeed because on the one hand, we are ethically driven to care for one another and save lives, etc. At the same time though, we must acknowledge that all things eventually die. It is the natural order of life. Given reproduction, the world’s resources cannot sustain unlimited population growth if every organism suddenly has the ability to sustain life forever. Thus I return to my original claim in this post – we should use genetic diagnosis to adopt conventional cures, or treat the symptoms I might add. We should use extreme caution though, in adopting genetic engineering to modify organisms to make them resistant to a particular pathogen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sept 29 Ridley Ch 15, 16, 17 (Sex, Memory, Death)

I had no problems with the chapter on sex while it was discussing disease nor even genetic sexual promiscuity in mice. I thought the implications of extending P. polionatus and P. maniculatus to humans might explain a lot about the wide variety of sexual characteristics across populations. For example, Mormon and Muslim religions generally discourage marriage outside the faith and encourage polygamy. Most faiths urge monogamy though. Yet, many people are increasingly flocking to atheism or agnosticism or just falling out of practice in general. Perhaps there is a relationship between ‘moral corruption’ so to speak and the spread of a gene similar to that causing sexual promiscuity in mice. If the spread of this gene were originally quarantined primarily to people of specific religions advocating polygamy and urging to marry within the faith, then the slow spread throughout humanity makes sense. Even as I write this though, I am highly skeptical of the ideas I myself am generating. Likewise, I am highly skeptical of assertions such as those made at the end of the chapter on sex stating that males and females have sexually linked differences in interests such as machines and weapons for males versus clothes and words for females. Too many people have been exceptions to such observations for this sort of claim to resonate well with me. I, for example, am female but could really care less about clothes and find machines far more fascinating. Does this make me a mutant somehow? I think it is more likely that if at one point such interests were once tied to sex chromosomes, they have since experienced widespread mutation, and in any case can not be associated with one particular chromosome as several genotypic segments may result in the aggregate phenotypic expression of interests. This seems especially plausible considering the information presented in the chapter that follows; if you recognize that certain genes code for learning ability, then should you not also recognize that sexual practices such as monogamy or promiscuity are influenced by social learning?