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jueves, 7 de abril de 2016

Genetics, negligible senescence and ‘the warrior gene’.

Genes are fascinating. The Genome Project, which was started in the mid-1980s and is on-going, attempts to identify each gene and its function. It is a huge undertaking, but it could result in a massive impact on science, particularly on medicine. It could lead to improvement in diagnosis of diseases and earlier detection of genetic predisposition.

However, these advances in genetics give rise to ethical and moral questions. To what extent will it be considered acceptable to play with people's genes? Are scientists trying to play God by changing a person's genetic makeup? Will our genetic information be used fairly to avoid genetic discrimination? 

There are concerns that we are only a few steps away from being able to choose our model baby. Will our ability to get insurance and jobs depend on our genetic sequence?  If people are allowed to alter the genetic code of their baby we might end up with a world full of blue-eyed babies. If our genetic predisposition to inherit diseases is made known, then some people might not be able to get health insurance.  Manipulation of DNA sequencing could be used to save life and treat diseases, but it could also be abused.
 Everybody would love to know the secret of eternal life. Does genetics hold the secret? Negligible senescence is the lack of symptoms of aging which is found in certain organisms. Turtles for example are well known for living for a long time, yet they show little sign of aging; we are told by the scientists.
Recent studies have indicated a connection between negligible senescence and the general stability of an organism's genome, specifically the process of storing DNA in the nuclei of the cell. Will those of us who have a better DNA storing system live longer? How will interfering with longevity affect our society?

There’s always been an argument that environment affects our development but now there is speculation that it can trigger dormant genes. Epigenetics is the study of the variations in DNA caused by external or environmental factors that switch genes on and off.  There is a study of convicted criminals’ genes which identified a particular gene in their DNA which predispose them to violence. Did they grow up in a particularly violent environment which activated the ‘violent gene’? This gene codes for monoamine oxidase, it has been nicknamed the ‘warrior gene’. 

There is now a theory that homosexuality stems from the under expression of certain genes which are involved in sexual preferences. The implication is that environment can cause the organism’s genes to express themselves differently. Maybe we are closer to understanding everyone’s sexuality.

Society decides what is acceptable behaviour. There are many science-fiction films that present a future in which human beings suffer alteration of their genes in order to make them more acceptable, more ‘normal’. 

Maybe this future is not so far away! So genes, negligible senescence and epigenetics are things everybody should know about.