Monday, February 16, 2009

Genetic Choices

Future Pundit is fond of asking, whenever a genetic influence is detected or a specific gene identified, "will parents choose to make sure their children have this gene or to not have it, when the choice becomes available?" It is an exceptional question to consider. The two most recent entries are empathy, and risk-taking.

We forget that an important part of evolutionary psychology is focusing on the traits that exist within the population, not just the individual. It is not solely a matter of whether we want a more compliant child or a feistier one ourselves, but if we want a society with reduced compliance or enhanced feistiness in its populace? There will be many of both individuals - how much does it change things to go from 50-50 to 70-30?

Not to mention unintended consequences of gene-environment interactions. An enormous number of your genes do nothing more than turn something on or off during your development, depending on whether the proper conditions are present. When you breed plants or animals for specific qualities, you get oddities.

Do you think I'm getting ahead of myself here? Think again.
Every baby born a decade from now will have its genetic code mapped at birth, the head of the world's leading genome sequencing company has predicted.

Get in the habit of asking yourself this whenever genetic traits are identified. I'm 55, it's not going to be my world. It's going to be yours. Part of a parent's decision is going to be the social and competitive world your child will grow up in. Do you refuse to enhance, knowing your daughter will be competing against the enhanced? We can dodge that for a generation in our family, equipped to compete naturally against the enhanced. But it won't last. And enhancement per se won't be the only issue.

If schools start granting admission advantages to Children with any of the following genetic traits: 16B15; 9CC121 or 3; etc, or employers offer them bonuses, will scientists decide that a core population of completely unmodified individuals is a necessary precaution? Will governments pay bonuses for that, as compensation? Will certain religious or social groups hold themselves aloof from enhancements, or from any modifications?


Quasimodo said...

What could go wrong?
How was I supposed to know?

Consider the average tomato in the grocery: perfect, red, round, shipable, tasteless. Now, apply to people. The risks are literally unimaginable.

Anonymous said...

I thought GATTACA was a fascinating movie.
There is a bit of a difference between reading genomes and being able to change genomes. The first is coming decades at least before the second. It seems that gene therapy to repair simple deletions should be, uh, simple, but so far that has not proven to be the case.

jaed said...

It may also be worth remembering that we have little clue as yet how genes interact with each other, let alone the environment. Various alleles may enhance general intelligence, but do some of them also cause problems with executive function, or increase susceptibility to schizophrenia? Parents may want blue eyes for their child, but does the blue-eye recessive interact badly with other recessives (perhaps not often found with blue eyes) and you turn out wth disease risks? Etc.

And we all know that different aspects of temperament influence one another - the empathy an extroverted child displays may be quite different from the empathy shown by an introvert, for example.

The possibilities are intriguing to say the least, but our level of understanding is so elementary that almost any genetic change is a potential minefield of unexpected consequences, even if you're only looking at the consequences for the affected person himself and ignoring general social effects.

Terro said...

Alphs, Betas, Gammas, Epsilons.