Monday, April 21, 2014

Week 4/14

                                             Human Enhanced Evolution
Chapter 15 talks about human enhancement and conveys several arenas such as gene screening (I am most interested in this one) and also raises a concern about winners and losers. To me, the whole idea of this chapter is evolution being facilitated by human technology.

So, what is evolution? There are many ways to interpret it. The most accepted one is Darwin's Theory of Evolution, which points out the conception of natural selection. The fundamental thread of natural selection is that "how good is an individual at giving babies." Another clearer way to explain it would be that it is a process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in inheritable physical and behavioral traits. Changes that allow organisms to better adapt to environment will help them survive and have more offspring. For example,  if one works out a lot and looks very shaped and muscular, is his kids going to be shaped and muscular? No, because that trait is acquired through exercise, which is not inheritable.

Modern civilization has a complete morality system and a highly developed medical system. Specifically, in such morality systems, people are only allowed to have one spouse ( I'm not trying to say polyandry or polygamy is adorable). Such limits a genetically better individual to have more offspring. Medical system facilitates people to get cured from diseases, which nevertheless hinders Nature to eliminate weak individuals. In a word, the evolution process is somehow handicapped as human civilization establishes. Now, with the development of science, human being, sooner or later, will enter a stage where evolution can be re-processed. As Woodhouse suggesting about genetic screening, I am in favor of it and think it is absolutely promising. Let me bring some examples, sickle cell anemia is a hereditary disease of which patients have abnormal red blood cell shaped like a sickle and it can develop multiple lethal conditions. This disease has a higher frequency among African. Why so? In the old time, malaria is prevalent in west Africa, and people with sickle shaped blood cells are immune to malaria because blood cells shaped so are unable to carry malaria. Thus, although seems harmful today, such trait is adorable in a period in history, and it is because that sickle cell people are more likely to survive from malaria and give birth to more kids. Such traits is passed down and becomes a disease. Nowadays, malaria can be cured easily, wouldn't it be awesome if gene screening can help sickle cell people to identify fetuses with the disease and only give birth to fetuses without disease (from another perspective, few parents want their babies to have inherited disease and suffer lifelong). From a personal experience, I had an intern at a company called Beijing Genomics Institute. At there, both of my mentors have Thalassemia, which is a hereditary disease about blood cells. Just like sickle cell,  it is a trait which inhibit carrying malaria, and it is originated in south-east Asia. The thing is that my mentors are couples, so they utilized the technology to run several pregnancy trial and eventually they have a baby without this disease. It sounds amazing to me: this is a life-changing-story by proper use of technology happened just next to me, and I do believe that with the development of gene screening, more and more inherited disease will be able to be cure or even prevented at embryo stage.

Responding to the concern of Woodhouse about "winners and losers," I think it is just fine to have winners and losers. Woodhouse's hidden assumption is that it is unfair to have winners and losers and that winners are very likely to be rich people. In my perspective, his assumption is untenable in a way that all games will have winner and loser. "If Heat defeats Celtics in a basketball game, does this mean that basketball is an unfair game?" Obviously not. Talking about evolution, all organisms are equally involved in this big game held by earth. If there are eliminated organisms, it does not mean that earth is being provincial. The same reasoning applies to human-facilitated-evolution as well. The "game" is unfair only if availability is gated by gender, by race , or by nationality. In my perspective, money should not be considered as an unfair factor. To interpret this attitude, we have to first examine some causes of gaps of income. As I explain previously in this blog, inheritable behavioral traits also count as part of evolution (intelligence definitely matters). It has been proved that some people are more resistant to daily pressure; some people are more focused; some are more determined due to gene expression. These behavioral traits strongly affect one's achievements. Maybe the kid gets A is the one who is willing to studying 3 more hours the night before final. Maybe he has 4 papers, 2 projects and 2 exams due in one week, and he just doesn't give up. It is true that birth lottery goes on. He might inherit such "tough traits" from his parents which might help him earning more in the future. When he is about to have a baby, he will afford genetic screening to make a step further in the process of evolution. To me, this is the default rule set by the Nature. It is unquestionable, and it would be outlandish to break such rule.

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