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Genetic Engineering: The New Eugenics?

  1. Dec 3, 2003 #1
    From http://geneticengineering.org/eugenics/jack-a-palmer.html

    The New Eugenics: Genetic Engineering
    by Jack A. Palmer,
    author of the brilliant book
    Evolutionary Psychology, The Ultimate Origins of Human Behavior

    The key difference between natural selection and selective breeding is that selective breeding is always based on value judgments. Natural selection in is an automatic process that is wholly indifferent to concepts such as good and bad, beautiful and ugly, strong and weak, noble or loathsome. Natural selection revolves wholly around reproductive viability. Although reproductive viability is necessary in selective breeding, the selection is oriented toward increasing some characteristic or set of characteristics that have been judged to be of value. Eugenics, in its original sense, like other forms of selective breeding was conceptualized as a means of "improving "the stock, in this case the human race. Eugenics is a very old idea, dating back to Plato and even earlier. It has been embraced by a gamut a different individuals throughout history. These individuals range from sensitive artists like George Bernard Shaw to the man whose name has become synonymous with evil, Adolf Hitler. Similarly, a number of different eugenics movements have risen throughout the course of history, also spanning the gamut in terms of general merit. However, none of these eugenics programs persisted for the time it would take to significantly alter the gene pool of the target population. Whether such a selective breeding program could ever be sustained for the requisite time is rapidly becoming a moot point. Soon we will have the technological know-how to transform the human genome in a single generation.

    The science of genetic engineering originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the discovery of restriction enzymes (Avise, 1998). While investigating how viruses and rings of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) called plasmids infect bacterial cells, recombine, and reproduce themselves, scientists discovered that bacteria make enzymes, called restriction enzymes, that cut DNA chains at specific sites. Restriction enzymes recognize particular stretches of nucleotides arranged in a specific order and cut the DNA in those regions only. Each restriction enzyme recognizes a different nucleotide sequence. Thus, restriction enzymes form a molecular tool kit that allows the chromosome to be cut into various desired lengths, depending on how many different restriction enzymes are used. Each time a particular restriction enzyme or set of restriction enzymes is used, the DNA is cut into identical pieces of the same number allowing for precise replication. The 1978 Nobel prize for physiology went to the discoverer of restriction enzymes, Hamilton O. Smith, and the first people to use these tools to analyze the genetics of a virus, Daniel Nathans and Werner Arber.

    Restriction enzymes make it possible to remove a bit of DNA from one organism's chromosome and to insert it into another organism's chromosome (Avise, 1998). This allows for the production of new combinations of genes that may not exist in nature. For example, a human gene can be inserted into a bacterium or a bacterial gene into a plant. So far, however, there are limits to this ability. Jurassic Park fantasies notwithstanding, scientists are currently unable to create a whole new organism starting solely with a test tube full of nucleotides. They must start with the complete genetic material of an already existing organism. Thus, genetic engineering allows the addition of only one or a small number of new characteristics to an organism that remains essentially the same. In addition, only characteristics that are determined by one or a few genes can be transferred. The current knowledge of behavioral genetics is not sufficiently advanced to enable scientists to transfer behavioral traits, such as intelligence, that are a complex mixture of many genes and ontogenetic factors.

    Complete text at http://geneticengineering.org/eugenics/jack-a-palmer.html
  2. jcsd
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