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The Genome Project and the Dark Side

JonKatz posted more than 14 years ago | from the Victor-Frankenstein-was-a-piker dept.

Science 556

The Human Genome Project, often referred to on this site, may be the most inspiring and disturbing technological project in contemporary history. It embodies the often tragic drama of contemporary technology: well-meaning people trying in the noblest way to improve the world; setting in motion forces few ordinary people understand, agree upon or are prepared for.

The Human Genome Project may be the most inspiring and disturbing technological project ever undertaken. This is the first time we've decided in so organized a way to alter the nature of life itself.

The project is a metaphor for everything that's both right and wrong about technology: well-intentioned people are using it to try to make the world better; at the same time continuously unleashing forces we haven't fully considered or agreed upon, and can't or won't control.

During the past few years, as many Slashdot readers know, scientists all over the world have begun a coordinated, systematic effort to create a complete biochemical description of the human genome - the DNA contained in the chromosomes of human cells - and to develop a genetic map indicating which components of this genetic material determine certain human traits, from depression to disease to susceptibility to addiction to eye color or artistic ability.

The project began in l990, part of a global effort co-ordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. Though its founders expected the project to last 15 years, advances in computing have accelerated the completion date; now it's only three years away. The goal of the human genome project is nothing less than to read and record the entire string of (at least) three billion letters in human DNA . According to a progress chart on the project's website, the progress towards mapping the genetics of human beings now stands at 36 per cent.

Aided by new supercomputers that analyze, store and distribute data faster that was thought possible even a few years ago, geneticists believe they have already identified the location of genes identified with dozens of disorders, including cystic fibrosis, some forms of mental retardation and Huntingdon's disease.

Supporters of the project hail it as a means of eliminating disease, emotional disorders and other forms of human suffering. But the risks and ethical dilemmas are staggering, especially considered against a backdrop of scant serious discussion anywhere in the world, certainly not in the United States.

Could employers and insurance companies obtain an individual's genetic information? Could government agencies or law enforcement authorities use genome research to invade privacy and predict behavior? Could prospective spouses demand DNA screenings to reject unsuitable mates?

Perhaps, most likely, will parents beginning using the results of genome research to begin the process of seeking out the "Perfect Baby?" To screen sperm and egg for, size, IQ, cloning, emotional and physical health?

There is no scientific consensus as to how far this project can go, or how quickly. Some geneticists have argued that the genome project is a pipedream, that the dream of unraveling the strands of human life are much more complex and mysterious than any scientific project can really grasp. But the history of genetics, supercomputing and technology all suggest that humanity is entering a new, inevitable era in the use of technology to alter human life, a direction that makes Victor Frankenstein's primitive experiments look like a crossword puzzle.

The genome project evokes a world practically bursting with technological hubris, a universe in which all children would be born healthy, and suffering would be greatly reduced. What could be nobler or more inspiring?

And there is a darker side to this radical project, even though few people in our society are considering it much. We have set out on a project whose goal is to alter the nature of human existence, without the interest of a single national political leader or a single Congressional debate (this in a country in which the mere mention of sex on the Internet sends legislative bodies into hyperdrive).

In effect, children may be given genotypes, genetic profiles. Offspring considered grotesque, revolting, impaired, repugnant or offensive could be eliminated.

How many parents will choose ugly kids when they can be assured attractive ones? Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

Biomedical ethicist Leon Kass is one of many scientists who worry about the pace of genetic research as well as its moral consequences.

"When a couple now choose to procreate," he writes in the eighth edition of "Technology and the Future," edited by Albert Teich (Bedford/St. Martin's), "the parents are saying yes to the emergence of new life in its novelty, saying yes not only to having a child but also, tacitly, to having whatever child the child turns out to be."

Our children, he writes, are not "our" children or posessions; they aren't supposed to live anyone's lives but their own. In altering the nature of new life, parents can not only live vicariously through their offspring but completely shape their lives.

Genetic screening is only one of the moral dilemmas our culture will soon face as the result of fast-moving genetic research. Scientists and biologists are nearly unanimous in their belief that within the next decade, someone, somewhere in the world will clone the first human being.

Given the history of technological breakthroughs once this technology has been unleashed, it's a near certainty that cloning will be used to create children. The nature of technology and much of the controversy and complexity that surrounds it is that people disagree about goals. Some parents will find it noxious to bring cloned humans into the world, others will find it irresistible, even noble.

This kind of social technology - conceived with the noblest of intentions - is not containable. It has no real direction beyond the fact that skilled scientists with powerful tools want to do it. In fact, not doing it seems as inconceivable as doing it.

But we're kidding ourselves if we think the only result will be the eradictation of some diseases and human suffering. Too many people will want to use it, too much money can be made off of it. The convergence of capitalism, technology and genetic engineering will be explosive, especially in a society as technologically thoughtless as ours.

Some forms of genetic selection - rarely labeled what they actually are - are already in widespread use, from genetic screening to prenatal diagnosis. They've already raised lingering ethical questions, only infrequently disseminated by journalists, politicians or scientists.

A quarter century ago, biologist Bentley Glass wrote of "The right of every child to be born with a sound physical and mental constitution, based on a sound genotype; the inalienable right to a sound heritage."

Maybe so. But is this a universal right, or one extended only to affluent people in industrial societies with access to advanced medical technology and generous insurance plans? What about developing and Third-World nations, where few will have access to Perfect Baby technologies? What about despots and dictators who might want to use genome maps to create certain kinds of communities and nations?

Have we really thought through the implications of unleashing medical procedures that would reduce the incidence of addiction, depression, retardation and physical disabilities? Are we comfortable living in a world in which whose categories of humanity - the retarded, the blind, the disabled - will disappear from our part of the earth? Do the healthy lose something when it's possible to eradicate the impaired?

Will the rights of children really be protected, or will the ultimate result of such pell-mell, until -recently- unimaginable tinkering be a world in which people are no longer distinct from one another - a humanity that's universally attractive, intelligent, able-bodied and eyeglass-free?

If any technological project embodies the engineer/author Samuel Florman's tragic view of technology, it's the genome project.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are most often credited in our culture with predicting the future, but both had spotty records. Increasingly, the writers who seems to have had the clearest bead on the 21st century were Orwell, author of "1984" and Aldous Huxley, who wrote "Brave New World," both foresaw the growing social movement towards conformity and the use of technology to shape and control culture.

But even he wasn't quite far-sighted enough. He thought government would be the force most likely to peep into our bedrooms, gather information on our tastes and behavior and pressure us to dress, talk and think uniformly. In this at least, he was mistaken.

In the 20th century, the most repressive forms of government - Communism, Fascism, Apartheid, Nazism - have collapsed or been defeated. Their efforts to censor culture or employ technology to control behavior have failed.

The most powerful institutions in our time aren't evil governments but powerful corporations with billions of dollars to conduct research, gather information and shape culture and society.

Modern corporations - Microsoft comes to mind - are not intrinsically evil, and have no political or ideological goals beyond money, but they are frighteningly powerful and influential, bigger than most governments on the planet and obvlivious to their own impact on creativity, freedom and individualism.

A generation ago, who could have imagined that one company would have its software in more than 90 per cent of the personal computers in the world?

Whatever the Genome Project ultimately does or doesn't uncover, it won't be Nobel Laureates and non-profit groups that get to control it or decide how this awesome new technology will be sold and used. It will likely be corporations, the only institutions in our society with enough power to acquire and manipulate mass markets.

In a world where people who want to have kids offer attractive men and women tens of thousands of dollars for their sperm and eggs, what might people pay for the Perfect Baby? And who do you think will control and own the patents and peddle the genetic maps?

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ah, i don't care (0)

cheese63 (74259) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475988)

hopefully i'll be dead by the time all the bad stuff comes about.

For Cryin' Out Loud (2)

WallyHartshorn (64268) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475989)

In the future, everyone might be attractive, healthy, and sociable. Oh, the horror! Only Jon Katz could complain about that. Get over it, for cryin' out loud.

Harumph (0)

mholve (1101) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475990)

Jeez, what a stick in the mud. ;>

A little Parasite Eve anyone?

JonKatz != moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1475991)

he just plain sucks. His blah, blah, blah treatises actually take longer to read than all of the lead-up /. comments that he echoes in his articles.

find somewhere else to write, Mr. Katz.

people who died (2)

jclip (113040) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475992)

The HGP is disturbing, but in the sense the introduction of the production line was disturbing. It will probably have a net-positive influence on people's lives, but there is also room for unspeakable evil.

How do you control this? Law! Order! Morality! All those things humans have generally been pretty good at maintaining all these years. Yes, there will be abuses, but most people and most civilizations will use the HGP data for net-good purposes.

Just because we have the keys to human genetics doesn't mean we're necessarily going to take it for a joyride.

... (4)

rde (17364) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475993)

Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

This, along with the 'beautiful and smart' argument, is the most commonly cited problem we'll face with genegeneering. But ask yourself this: how many people reading Katz' essay would be willing to splice 'compliance' into their sprogs? Not many.
Regardless of the technology, there'll always be a percentage of people who'll misuse it, and there'll always be a group of people who'll assume that this percentage is a majority. But I'd like to ask a few questions.
1. What percentage of the world's population were born into a world where their parents could take advantage of the latest medical technology?
2. Even assuming that universal medicare becomes available, is the entire world going to agree on what constitutes 'beautiful'? 'Smart' is also in the eye of the beholder.

Strings of atoms (2)

Jimhotep (29230) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475994)

Little strings of atoms.
Everything to make a chicken is inside that
shell. The feathers, legs, tasty breast and
the clucking sound. All from a little string
of atoms.

When I want to be really blown away I think about
genes. Damn it's fun.

Unnatural Selection (1)

Firinne (43280) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475995)

Since humans in general have removed themselves from the laws of Natural Selection, why would it be a problem for humans to improve their species themselves? If a child could be born with fewer physical defects, or less of a genetic tendency toward disease, that's all the better, IMHO.

Also, it's true that at first, this will be an option only available to the wealthy (or those who could get their insurance to pay for it) in industrialized countries. But as the technology improves, it should become cheaper and more widespread. That's the hope, anyway. Look at fertility's gotten to the point where even welfare mothers can have quintuplets (sigh), so I imagine that genetic technology would follow suit.

As with anything else, there is a possibility that a certain technology could be abused. But the potential good far outweighs the fears, IMHO.

Brave New World (2)

Rabbins (70965) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475996)

Huxley seems to have the clearest vision when it comes to this area. Brave New World is clearly what Gattaca was based on.

Huxley's world was much different than the world of 1984. The majority of control was done subliminally, as oposed to the in your face, non-stop control tactics used in 1984. Instead of repressing sex, Huxley realized that through encouraging open sex, control was all the more easier. In his world, everyone goes around, happily bedding down with anyone they choose and high on drugs. People live well, are fed and babies are grown to exact conditions... who would complain? The only problem comes when an outsider, used to freedom, comes in.

I believe that world has a much greater chance of occuring than the one in 1984 (though I love the book and the vision). Most simply because I do not really believe in true evil. But also because everyone in Huxley's world trully believe they are doing the right thing and those being controlled are genuinely happy.

So I do see the possibility of that future... I think the transformation would be the most difficult (I would certianly try to stop it), but once the ball really started rolling... it would be very difficult to stop.

Scares the hell out of me! (1)

KDubuisson (62100) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475997)

I don't know about you guys but this whole genome project scares me to death. Someone, somewhere will use this information to create weapon that is a strain of something that affects every human being and we will not be able to stop its effects. Like Ian said in Jurassic Park "No one ever stopped to ask 'should we do it' instead of 'can we do it'".

I eat sleep and breath technology, but there are just somethings I have to leave up to the almighty.

Lack of diversity (1)

grunkhead (17250) | more than 14 years ago | (#1475998)

One comment on the HGP that I didn't see was about the potential lack of diversity in the human population as we work toward having the "right" genes. It would seem that having less diversity would make humans less adaptable to whatever changes might be in the future.

Re:Jon Katz is a moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1475999)

Take a look at yourself and your coworker and than you will see who is a real moron

Things to remember (1)

Bad Mojo (12210) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476000)

1) No one knows what will happen in the future.

2) There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just guys.

3) Nothing is left alone anymore. Everything is controlled and manipulated.

4) Those who control and manipulate have agendas.

5) No one knows what these agendas are.

My end point being that worrying over the future is silly. Writing your congressman and News Papers about how you feel is not a bad thing. Knowledge is power and knowing more (than even Katz) will mean that you are more able to make a better decision about how you want things to turn out. More knowledge helps you know what to do to help things turn out that way.

So go read up on genetics. Go read up on the Genome project and find out what exactly scientists can and cant do before you go and join some pro (or con) genome project rally and end up busting some K-Mart storefront someday.

Moderate this up or down. It won't make it any less true.

Bad Mojo

It's not all bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476001)

I have a very rare disease (Choroideremia) and they have just dicovered the gene. This is promising for my grandchildren as they miay not have to worry about going blind as I have been. For me, an equally significant advance is the bionic eye (actually a chip planted in the eye) that is currently being deeveloped. I am all for this kind of stuff so long as it is used for curing diseases and NOT selecting features/traits of future generations on the basis of aesthetics (e.g hair color, eye color, weight, etc.)

Re:Jon Katz is a moron (1)

mwittenstein (120813) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476002)

Responses like this waste our time. If you don't want to spend a few minutes justifying your statements, don't bother making them.

Re:Sacry (1)

vinay (67011) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476003)

from who? Jon Katz? Yeah. He does raise some interesting points. Then he just takes a running leap with them. I agree that genetic manipulation is both scary and inspiring. I also believe that it's got to happen sometime. Why not now? It's going to raise a myriad of questions and cause gaps between generations and classes and societies. But I believe that these things HAVE to happen sometime. That's how we learn. By tinkering.

And if multinational corporations rule the world? I can't say that's the best future. But then again, it might not be a bad one. Read almost any book by William Gibson. He predicts a much more chaotic world. That doesn't make it bad.

Information is Good (2)

mhm23x3 (30474) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476004)

Could employers and insurance companies obtain an individual's genetic information? Could government agencies or law enforcement authorities use genome research to invade privacy and predict behavior? Could prospective spouses demand DNA screenings to reject unsuitable mates?

Here's what I think:

All that knowing a person's genetic makeup tells us is what that person has inherited. A prospective employer or mate can find out what our genetic makeup looks like simply by meeting our parents. Do most employers care if our parents had histories of drug addiction, or laziness, or criminal behavior? Or, to put it another way, when your fiance' wants to meet your parents before getting married, do you think that this is unethical? We as human beings are not completely determined by our chromosomes. The environment, and our own free will also take roles in developing who we are as individuals. People already understand that, and I think they will re-learn this when they discover that knowing the complete human genome is not a crystal ball into determining the character of a person.

Earlier in this century, we dabbled in eugenics, only to learn that a "super-race," or perfect human beings are not possible, no matter how much you tweak and perfect genetics. I do think, however, that knowing the human genome will help us to eliminate many of the problems that arise from faulty genes, such as the ones that cause genetic disorders. Someday, we may even greatly slow down the aging process, by identifying which genes are responsible for certain types of bodily decay.

I guess my point is, this is not technology to be afraid of.

Uplift (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476005)

This reminds me of David Brin's Uplift War series. Man uses genetic engineering to "uplift" pre-sentient species to full intelligence. Pretty Cool. I'd sure like to see talking dolphins and chimps in my lifetime. Of course if the government decides to take absoloute control over everything, then we'll never get anywhere.
(NASA-we've never been back to the moon since the government took over control and funding)

Hope this whole thing works out the right way.

--Vidboy of no e-mail address

Perhaps we're all forgetting something? (1)

tweder (22759) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476006)

I don't know about the rest of you, but honestly this really frightens me. With the advent of the 'Perfect Baby' everyone will be running around carrying a miniature Leonardo DiCaprio or a tiny Cameron Diaz. And with that, they'll all be exactly identical, no more individuals - sorry. Maybe I'm wrong here (more than likely), but doesn't creativity occur when individuals decide to think out of the box? If we were all happy with our state of mediocrity would we even have Linux? Perhaps Torvalds would've never written anything and just gone on with his lovely life where everyone's beautiful.

Re:Anonymous Coward is a moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476007)

This article was laughable. I don't evenhave the time to warrant with a response. Suffice to say that this "Jon Katz" is a true idiot. My co-workers and I all got a good laugh out of this moron trying to sound intelligent.

Funny thing is, Jon Katz succeeded in at least sounding intelligent. You failed. :^)

Watch Gattica (1)

NecronomiconII (22006) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476008)

This is the perfect movie that shows all the implications of this research.

Unfortuneately, I know that we will go forth with this frightfully Akiraesque research.. It's in our nature. One person will never be able to stop this, weather or not it SHOULD be stopped. It would take an army of people, with an almost revolution like quality. But we all have bills to pay, mouths to feed, we don't have the time. And when we do have the time it will be too late.

"How would you like your kid sir?"
"Uh, yah, I'll take a blonde with an awesome jump shot with uhhmm.. Blue eyes, fair skin, a side of charm and hold the temper.."
"That'll be $10482, please drive around to the first insemination room. Thanks"

Better learn to live with it (1)

mpeskin (123848) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476009)

Such is the nature of innovation. True advances in human knowlege are virtually never made as a matter of consensus, and the more significant the advance, the more difficult it is to predict the consequences. Uncertainty is the price of progress.

good article on the subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476010)

in the september issue of commentary magazine.

the future is here (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476011)

now i know most people are going to first read this article and think of Brave New WOrld. and sure parts of that book might come true in the future, BUT, i think people are missing the point. i think getting rid of cancer, blindness, and all those other nasty dieses that have been killing our loved ones for so long is important. and i know people will be outraged when they read the line Could prospective spouses demand DNA screenings to reject unsuitable mates? they will go into shock but think about it for a minute. sure its cold and lacks that passion that love is all about, but we as a species has not been involved in the evolution process for a long long long time. we mate with whoever we want. there is no thought to see if they are diesesed or ill in anyway. every other animal on the planet breeds selectivly. thats why animals keep evolving. we on the other hand keep things like cancer going because we mate with people that have these genes. now don't get me wrong, i don't want to see Brave New World happen here either but i would love to see blindness end, cancer go away and all the mirid of other shit ass problems that have dogged us for so long. oh, and for all u who say that this will lead to a huge population increase and where the heck are we going to fit all these people. simple, keep sending those probes to mars and the moon. true, we can't put a billion people up there anytime soon, but its all about baby steps!

Re:Jon Katz is a moron (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476012)

Couldn't agree more - this is all fairly old hat as far as I can see. You can be a slave to your genes if you like, me - I like to think I'm a bit more evolved.

Ever heard of the move Gatica? (1)

78spb89 (78849) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476013)

Geneticly engineered children. What happens to the "love children" when this comes about. Obviously, they would be repressed as imperfect for even the slightest defect, even one's that aren't visable that we think nothing of today. Corporations would spurn these people in preference of the ones that were "made" to have higher IQ's. This is trouble if it is used wrong. I have no problem with attempting to eleminate major or cripling defects in children concieved of in some natural form. However, geneticly engineering them is wrong.
if (OS==Linux && segfault) {edit_source()} continue;
if (OS==Windows && illegal_operation) {
return Linux;

Morality != Egotism (4)

PG13 (3024) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476014)

There are many moral issues to genetic engineering (Katz mentioned several) such as wether only certain people have the benifit and what insurance companies may do with the data. However the on complete non-issue is whether it is a good idea to genetically engineer the species (we still need to be careful we do it well but we should definatly improve ourselves).

What would you do if someone told you not to attend college as you were changing yourself. You would laugh at them no? Why isn't the same issue true with genetic engineering?

Because people are afraid they will be obsoleted! As long as their aren't designer babies I can convince myself I am valuable for who I am. As soon as a man appears who is better looking smarter faster etc.. what do I have left. In addition it also attacks our egotism by PROVING we are not special but just strings of genetic code. Just like the Copernican model of the solar system genetic engineering will not be rejected because it is moral wrong but because accepting it is too much for our ego's and our power structures to bear.

In fact we have a DUTY to genetically engineer our children as soon as it is safe. Standing by and lettting someone be maimed is nearly as bad as maiming them ourselves. Every instant we have the technology but don't use it we are effectively maiming our children. Whether it be in terms of the greater intelligence perfect eyesight or stronger bodies by not granting them these things we are hurthing them

Finally this is an interesting issue but couldn't it have been presented in two paragraphs?

Run for the Hills... (2)

The Iconoclast (24795) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476015)

and lock up your daughters!!! It's BIG, BAD SCIENCE come to get us all and STEAL OUR SOULS!!!!
And watch out, cause those EVIL corporations are gonna get us all. We are opening a PANDORA'S BOX we can never close.

Sheesh, what a bunch of reactionary crap based on a confused and frightened outlook. I hate to burst your bubble, but you never actually SAID anything in that whole tirade, John. Sure, you named lots of big concepts and all the "big fears" that every red-blooded American (my apologies to others) is supposed to have at merest mention of genetic (insert verb here)-ing, but is there really any solid basis for these? No! Instead of trying to prey off the fears of your audience, one should enlighten them with fact and allow them to decide for themselves. Heaven forbid that people think for themselves.

See "Gattaca" (3)

lordsutch (14777) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476016)

I recommend anyone seriously interested (or even casually interested) in this topic check out Gattaca [] , an infinitely better exploration of this topic than this media rant. (Plus, it doesn't hurt that Uma Thurman is in it ;-).)

Re:... (1)

SchipLee (115618) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476017)

"Even assuming that universal medicare becomes available, is the entire world going to agree on what constitutes 'beautiful'? 'Smart' is also in the eye of the beholder."

Smart and beautiful are very subjective. Initially, those living less advantaged lives will aim for intelligence in their offspring. While those living in more technologically advanced countries will aim for the more physically perfect. JMHO

The scariest part, I think, is once the initial rush to change what currently is in terms of intelligence and physical attributes is over, will the world become a pod of Beautiful Brains? What good will it all be then?

As a side note, I do believe that the eradication of disease and disorder are probably the best benefits. Skip the defective genes and leave the rest to chance... defective being defined as disabling or debilitating. (Oh, I can feel the flames!)

Survival of the fittest (1)

pvente (89848) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476018)

What I find really interesting is the evolutionary battle being set up by pitting the desire for 'beautiful' offspring versus the medical advances that forestall natural selection.

For instance, it can be argued that many diseases/afflictions that may have been naturally selected out of the gene pools have been kept in the gene pools by medicine (by allowing people with potentially fatal problems to live long enough to procreate and pass on their genes). On the other side comes the idea in this article that people will select only perfect offspring, thereby getting rid of the diseases/afflictions from the gene pool. Both tracks use technology to advance. I wonder which will win out ?

Can of worms! (1)

ChrisGB (114774) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476019)

This is the problem with any new technology - there is an upside and a downside. Without advances in nuclear technology we wouldn't have power stations that are capable of generating huge amounts of electricty, but we also wouldn't have the H-Bomb and regrettable incidents like Hiroshima and Chernobyl.

This project would conceivably give us the techniques needed to erradicate disease and suffering from illness, but the flip side is - "Is this a good thing or not?". Obviously preventing suffering is a good thing, but with less disease, life expectancy increases and overpopulation becomes a problem.

I think the threat of using this technology to buy 'perfect babies' is probably less of a problem. There would be strict legislation on this kind of use of research, and although like today there are bound to be a few people who abuse the sysetem, overall the pros outweigh the cons.

Overall, I think that this is 'a good thing'. If we can get closer to ending cancer and heriditary illnesses then the world will be a better place. I can't wait to hear the legislative argument though! ;-)

What to do with the knowledge..... (1)

Chilles (79797) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476020)

Just another step towards making it impossible for normal people to do the right thing....
I'd really like to make sure that my kid if and when it comes into this world, has no avoidable disease or handicap, but where is the line between handicap and ugliness.
Thirty years from now my adult kid comes to me and says "thanks a lot paps, if you'd have had me checked back then my health-insurance plan would have been much cheaper now."
Or he comes to me and says "Way to go dad, I can't have a kid the normal way with anyone on the northern hemisphere cause it'll probably be an imbred"
Healthy people is okay, but i'd like to know just how healthy we are supposed to be.
After all, you only feel healthy as long as you know how it feels to be sick. No happiness without sorrow, no rich without poor, no beautifull without ugly, no "good" genes without "bad" ones.

Katz-isms aside... (1)

tzanger (1575) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476021)

... why you people bother posting just for the sake of jagging this guy is beyond me... if he truly upset you you'd turn him off with your slashboxes. And if you didn't log in, well you're free to leave anytime.

Aside from that, Katz overlooked the movie based on exactly this notion: Gattica. Everyone is screened, blood and urine tests at every corner, "gene-ism" (as opposed to racism) abounds if you're not 6', thin, blue eyes and blonde with 20/20 vision. I won't ruin the movie ofr those who haven't seen it... go see it; it's pretty good.

As a parent, what Jon describes is both prayers answered and nightmares brought to life. What parent doesn't (secretly) desire to know what their child will look like, be like, whether they'll have the heart disease or cancer that runs in the family. What parent doesn't wish they could get a solid guarantee that the child will be born without mental retardation or other genetic disease? Or with six fingers or two heads for that matter?

I know as my daughter was growing inside my wife that I worried about these things. Amniocentesis isn't 100% accurate. What if we had that done and it came back that the child has trisomy-21 or some other genetic disease? I'm firmly against abortion but facing a child who will die early or who has a quality of life seriously rivaling navel lint... I'm not so sure anymore.

Thankfully the cards played out and she's a healthy baby girl. She has a few "defects", if you'll call them that -- she has my strange feet and square hands, but she looks very much alright. Who knows what genetic information we gave her which affects her mind and body that we won't see for years to come?

Will this technology bring about "generic" kids? Will everyone want their child to look like a model and be hyperintelligent? The desire for such a "great" feature-set is enormous, but what becomes of us as a society? It's like natural selection in the hands of man.

Grr. (1)

freakho (28342) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476022)

Too many viewings of Gattaca, Katz. The actual sequencing of the HG is not, could never ever ever be, bad in and of itself. It can only have positive effects, and more positive effects than we can possibly imagine right now. The danger comes when people with ethical shortcomings start to use this information in.. well, ethically challenged ways.

Why is it that, thought technophobia is considered backwards by most people these days, when it's applied to something relating to DNA, it's considered wise? Why is all cloning research denied federal funds when lmost no one is interested in cloning whole human beings (which is the thorny issue) but instead wants to grow better organ transplants? There are lots of other examples of this strange syndeome, but right now I'm too pissed off to remember them.

Too Late. (5)

jd (1658) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476023)

Genetic screening is "old hat". Eugenics has been around almost as long as recorded history. The desire to destroy all that is different, in order to "defend" the power & status of "me and mine" is older still.

The human genome project doesn't change the war between evolution and those who prefer stagnation. It merely changes some of the weapons used.

The result, though, was decided long ago, before life ever evolved on this planet, before this solar system even existed. Stagnation, whether it's in the form of the "perfect" race, or the "perfect" anything, will always lose, in the end.

The question that should be asked is not "do we want to play God with our children?", but "do we want there to be any children, after that?"

Nature has shown, time and again, that it is capable of deadly, sudden change, and that it's oblivious to humanity's ego. A race of "perfect" beings, spawning yet more "perfect" beings, is liable to have a narrow gene pool, making it vulnerable to new plagues, changing environments, and other nasties. Without biodiversity, a small change can have a BIG impact.

As I see it, humanity is likely to fragment over this issue. It usually does, when something major happens. Those who choose a dead-end path will die out, and those who don't, won't. Those who opt for a life of Eugenics choose, IMHO, the same road as the Luddites, which can only lead to oblivion. Change is the only certainty, and the only path with any long-term future. And trying to create super-humans, or "perfect" people can only kill that change.

To put this another way, if we had had the ability to do genetic manipulation at the turn of the 20th century, there would have been no Rock & Roll. No Beatles. No Relativity. No nuclear fission or fusion. Professor Hawking would never have been born, his genes would have marked him as terminally ill. So, no black hole theory, either.

With science and most of the original music this century effectively wiped out, society would have rapidly decayed, and either destroyed by a natural event (eg: meteorite impact, disease), or by man-made disasters (eg: global warming).

If society does fragment, as I expect, I'll stay in the group that prefers to evolve. It has a future, even if the alternative seems to offer some short-term advantages.

Re:Unnatural Selection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476024)

Yeah, eugenics is COOL!

HEY! YOU! out of the gene pool!

Re:... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476025)

Fuck Tom Christiansen and the horse he rode in on. I wonder what that cock goblin is doing right now.

He misses the most obvious problems (2)

jake_the_blue_spruce (64738) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476026)

Actually, rather than criticizing the genetic engineering of infants, which is bound to happen, he should focus on the ramifications.

If the next generation is engineered to be nearer to perfection, what will happen to those now living? Gene-therapy on adults will only have limited ability to reorder cells, so adults can't modify themselves much. Those children of the next generation and present generations who are not engineered will get all kinds of discrimination, by insurance companies unwilling to pay for their greater health care costs, by schools and corporations who are unwilling to accept lesser candidates when newer, more perfect ones are available.

Personally, I'm brushing up on my janitorial skills for when the next generation of software engineers are gene engineered from Linux Kernel hackers and the inventor of LISP, with the looks of supermodels.

It's only sporting ... (1)

fhwang (90412) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476027)

... to point out, in this discussion, that a lot of these questions were already brought to the public in Gattaca. In fact, I bet if you were to take one of those man-on-the-street polls, you'd hear a lot of people expressing serious reservations about genetic research in general. Everyday folks may not know all the specifics of the Human Genome Project, but they get the gist of it.

Unfortunately, those are the people who are intimidated by scientific talk, and often feel that the scientific community doesn't want to hear what they think. (Which is too often the case.)

Francis Hwang

What I would hate to see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476028)

is the erradication of folks like Hawking, a personal hero of mine, perhaps one of the most intelligent persons ever, before he hade one contribution, just because he's not "beautiful"? I shudder at how bland and slow our lives may become.

solution (1)

kemokid (122655) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476029)

I think there's a simple solution to this spectre of genetic engineering. No reproduction allowed! Homo sapiens has been a bloody useless and destructive species.

Maybe we should wait until we create AI first, then they'll wipe us out. :-)

Re:Scares the hell out of me! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476030)

Does it frighten anyone else that we quote pop-entertainment movies in such serious discussions?

can we trust industry with our genes? (1)

mtivey (112787) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476031)

Will genetics companies care about side effects of tampering with our genes, or will they care only about their profits. Here in the UK we were deceived about beef by both industry and the government, and now we are seeing the reluctance of the mobile phone industry to even admit the possibility of health risks associated with mobiles. Do you think we can trust them to care for us at the expense of their profit margins???

The oldest human dilemma: progress (4)

RNG (35225) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476032)

Hmm, JK paints this as a fundamental dilemma which only raises it's head now. Yet I would say that this is the oldest human dilemma: everytime we invent something we envision some use for it. After a while, someone figures out a different use for it and everybody goes: "Wow, we didn't see that coming."

Let's see:

  • Fire: Great stuff. Without fire, your house could not burn down. Unfortunately you food would also be cold.
  • Guns: You can now protect yourself from all sorts of creepy folk. Unfortunately guns enable this kind of folk to kill you at a distance.
  • Cars: You can travel all over the place at any time during the day or night. Of course that also means that you're stuck in traffic jams, pollute the environment and might get into ugly accidents.
  • Computers: Wow, we now have technology to analyze all the data we have. Once this is done on a massive scale, coroprations and governments will know more about you than was thought possible a few decades ago.
  • Nuclear Energy: Yeah! We now have safe energy. Unfortunately some people want to make bombs out of this stuff. Oh yes, if there's an acceident and you happen to live near such a plant, you won't be a happy camper.

So this seems to be natures way of saying There's no such things a a free lunch. Genetic engineering will just be the latest progress that will eventually bite us in the ass, with the difference this time around being that we're playing with the funamentals of life. However we have a history of playing with things before we actually understand them; the whole dilemma with genetically altered foods (and the dying butterflies) is just another illustration of what the future will bring. Brace yourself and let's just hope we get a lucky break ...

It's all a plot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476033)

You see, we'll breed kiddies that will comply willingly with Geek profiling. They won't break taboos about dying children, but they will totally believe in American freedom. They'll only use Open-Source software, and they won't kill other kids.

I read a comment once about a guy who wrote an "X-Files" meter and ran Jon Katz articles through it. I'm getting the feeling that this is just a plot for Jon to score higher on that dude's meter. Does anybody have the source code?

Re:Perhaps we're all forgetting something? (1)

vinay (67011) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476034)

I agree that a world with multiple Leonardo DiCaprio's would be incredibly frightening. Dang.

Still, assuming these hypothetical parents and children are real, they might have identical genetic codes (which is doubtful, maybe just alter the genes affecting physical appearance). Even if they did, they're going to have their own unique experiences. They might react in a very similar fashion. Then again, they might not. Identical twins can be incredibly alike (as psyche experiments show us). But there is an extremely wide range of variation within a genetic code.

for example: a person's IQ has been shown to vary within a specific range (the location of this range is, if I remember correctly, determined by genetics) depending on environmental factors. A mentally stimulating environment typically breeds a higher IQ.

The moral of the story: We're never going to be exactly alike. Not even Identical Twins are EXACTLY alike.


Re:For Cryin' Out Loud (2)

Arctic Fox (105204) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476035)

When Human Genomes become "open source" won't it be possible to exploit certain open doors?
Imagine script kiddies as maniacal despots working on Biologicals.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that you can fix the bugs, but how possible is that for an adult? Billions of chromosomes.... I'm not sure that's possible.

Re:Jon Katz is a moron (2)

Sleen (73855) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476036)

Laughable compared to what? Your commentary? So much for demonstrating through example. I agree, he has not presented any NEW information that has not been available to anyone with a subscription to Nature, or Science.
But he did present the topic, and touched off on the basic issues of contention.
These are routine and almost dogmatic for anyone following these developments.

But I'm curious, coward, what exactly was laughable? Was Katz wrong in estimating a clone within a decade?
Am I writing to one now?
Out of 3X10^9 nth base pairs, what do you have to contribute?
If nothing, then leave it on the bathroom wall.


Isn't the genome project open? (1)

malkavian (9512) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476037)

As far as I recall, the Genome project is about the bringing of the gene map into the public domain.
If this is held to, then, it's about as much a lever to the big corporations as Linux is to the computing world.
Everyone owns the map.
As far as genetic modifications taking something away from the healty, I'd disagree most strenuously. I've worked with handicapped people in the past, and the saddest ones are the ones who appreciate their conditions.
Given a choice of leading a normal life without their disability, and having the disability, nearly all would choose a normal healthy life.
Given that mankind has evolved a fully conscious mind, there is thus nothing unnatural about using that very tool to alter our evolution. Far from it being a "Frankenstein" project, it's an entirely natural extension to the normal path of evolution.
Humanity left the standard model of evolution (survival of the fittest) quite a while ago, along with the advent of societies. This latest development of direct manipulation of the genes is merely a natural offshoot of this direction.
The mere fact that this treatment is optional is in fact a safeguard.
If, for example, there are untold side effects generations down the line in gene modified humans, then the 'naturals' wouldn't be affected by this.
If however, the gene modified humans become stable and far more "fit" by the standards of natural selection, then, their genotype will predominate in the gene pool, shortly predominating in the gene pool at large. Humanity will be more fit.
The most important part of humanity is not what we appear to be in the physical sense, but who we are in the emotional and ethical and mental sense, the essential us. This is trained in a large part by environment and care. As long as this side is not neglected, then, humanity has a bright future, whatever form it chooses to take.
Just my view..


Re:Lack of diversity (1)

NecronomiconII (22006) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476038)

Or you could get "Super Adaption". Why not alter a human who could hold his breath for long periods of time. He'd make a good diver. Or make the skin extra tough for harsh work environments. How bout longer legs for better basketball or whatever..

You think about people looking all alike? HA.. I'm waiting to see the super freaks come out.

When you take away the ability for any system to adapt, by removing their ability to "mutate" you make extinction that much more a possibility.

Koala bears ONLY eat Ukaliptis (sp?) leaves.. You take that away, they die. They can't adapt fast enough...

People take about the 3rd world war that will wipe us all out.. Pfff. I'm looking at the common cold we THOUGHT we took care of back in 2002 that comes back and takes us out, because we took out the gene that makes seezing such an annoyance for allergy suffers, or fevers, or mucus production.


HPG Library Card (1)

tilleyrw (56427) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476039)

What's going to happen when the HPG concludes?

There will be a period of turbulence as humanity adjusts to this new knowledge.

This has happened before and will happen again.

We'll deal with it and get on with our lives.

I want my matter transmuter!!!

Pliant children (2)

PG13 (3024) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476040)

Katz suggests that people will try to have cheerful pliant children. While they may try it is very possible that even specifying the genetic code you may get VERY differnt personalities (think seperated twin studies). In addition people don't necesserily want pliant children, they want children who are like they were (live vicarously through your children) cloning is a far more likely danger here then the pliant children issue.

(although given the sex biases in the US you might see everyone trying to engineer good looking but otherwise lacking daughters. Slashdotters need to band together for the good of the next generation and produce daughters genetically engineered for coding)

A couple thoughts... (1)

LordOmar (68037) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476041)

I loved this write up when it was called Gattica, but that's truly beside the point (although the world depicted in that film is exactly the type of world Mr. Katz is describing, there are other considerations to take into consideration. The Human Race itself has trived on it's diversity and the ability to "have" the right person for the right job. If one starts removing the genes for (say) agressive behavior (an ideal situation for a parent in "the perfect baby", but a quality which is responsible for more than some assume in our adult lives) who's going to be there when the "aliens (or rebels or mutants, or whatever you want to call them) decide to stage a forceful take over, and the geneticly pliant population merely shrugs, says "oh, he/she/it's in charge now", and goes back to work. The iradication of genetic disease is one thing (and I think the original intent of many scientists involved in the project), the alteration of essential elements of our genetic make-up is another.
I just envision short sighted parents who want the "perfect child" ordering up thier genetic soup (so to speak) and realize 18 years later that often the "perfect child" is an ineffectual adult.

My father always said to his fellow parents that he wasn't trying to raise good children, he was trying to raise good adults.

I think there's a certain wisdom in those words.

*cough*GATTACA*Cough* (1)

angelo (21182) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476042)

Yes, it would be bad for the "theys" of the world to know your genetic failings, and use it against you in a myriad of ways. Yes, it would be nice to know if your baby is going to be disabled or whatever. However, it is what is done with this information that is important. Eschelon reads email and builds profiles of suspected terrorists or criminals (all people are guilty until proven innocent in this situation -- besides it's "for the children's future" we stand ever-vigilant against terrorists) without their knowledge. Certainly any healthily paranoid person/saint/criminal will be on the lookout for such pitfalls, but you can't hide your genes. In the past 30 or so years, homelessness has increased because state hospitals discharged the milder cases. Most homeless are harmless, but some can be murderers in disguise. No amout of psych tests may be able to find this disposition. But comes the new DNA testing that can test for the capacity to murder, and there you have it. Tried and convicted before you commit the crime.

The serious implication of this is committing "crimes of DNA" instead of a crimes of commission.

Re:... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476043)

British people can't cook for shit. They're animals.

Re:Ever heard of the move Gatica? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476044)

people always take the negative spin on these things. i don't think it will ever get that bad. yes it will cure dieses and and defects and that, so u take the good with the bad and hope this culture is mature enough not to abuse what it knows. i doubt that people will ever allow for corporations, government or whoever to decide if u are fit to work based on some kind of DNA scan. sounds more like that sci-fi movie gataca. life is not always so dark and evil, cheer up everyone!

If one good thing comes of this... (2)

drox (18559) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476045)

...I suspect it will be the realization of just how little (in humans anyway) in under the complete control of genes.

How many parents will choose ugly kids when they can be assured attractive ones? Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

Few, perhaps. But will it matter? Parents who select the genes for cheerful and compliant offspring will quickly come to realize that these things are not controlled by genes. Look at dogs. Dogs would seem to be far more under the control of their genes than humans are (they don't have a culture, at least not to the extent that humans do). And yet dogs bred for generations to be vicious attack dogs (I'm thinking of Doberman pinschers, pit bull terriers and the like) can, with the proper upbringing, become gentle, loving, even compliant pets. Similarly, dogs bred for gentleness (retrievers and the like) can very quickly become vicious if they are abused as puppies, or trained as attack dogs.

Gene therapy may offer the chance to control those things that are strictly - or even mostly - under the control of genes. When a gene is missing or damaged, and a disease is the result, gene therapy may help. This does not seem (to me) to be a bad thing. But behavior is not under the control of genes. Aspects of it may be (as when brain chemistry is altered as the result of a missing or damaged gene), but most brain chemistry is under the control - in large part anyway - of the environment.

People who want good behavior from their children will not get it from gene therapy. They will get it from raising their children right.

The Transfer of authority... (1)

Marasmus (63844) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476046)

The Human Genome Project's results wouldn't be frightening if it weren't for the fact that this information, previously available only to the best of scientists, is being packaged in a way to be 'understandable' by the common man.

Now really, what happens when the McDonalds employee of 30 years experience decides that they're qualified to request genetic changes to their soon-to-be child? If you know anything about genetics, this is FAR more dangerous than even the most pessimistic peoply have been saying about this. We're begging to exterminate our own race with capabilities such as this. When the sports nuts decide that they want their next son to be a big, brawling hulk of a man, even though his parents are small people, just think of all the little genetic anomalies that will appear from the genetic alteration they want. Let this continue for about ten generations, and humans will no longer be recognizeable.

I'm a technology fanatic, but altering things specifically controlled by nature (that are clearly out of our jurisdiction of thought) will only lead to problems. Big Problems.


Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476047)

dear mr. katz,

i want to use the human genome project for my open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore project. as you may suspect, these projects are highly compatible.
i would look cool as i played with open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore genes in my basement.
"look how cool he is!" the movie-going audience would exclaim, "he looks like frederick march with his wild hair and crazy smile! when he has completed his open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore project, we will all be rewarded! handsomely!"

please, mr. katz, put me in touch with your HGP sources. i am certain they would choose to volunteer their expertise to the open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore project if you explain to them how cool i would look as i walked down the street, carrying my open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore in my laptop.
"yes!! natalie portman and drew barrymore are fine female specimens and anonymous coward would look cool as he walked down the streets with his open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore in his laptop. we gladly volunteer our expertise to the open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore project! the hgp will be rewarded handsomely!"

i will reward them handsomely, mr. katz.

thank you.

Re:Katz-isms aside... (1)

Spunk (83964) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476048)

What parent doesn't wish they could get a solid guarantee that the child will be born without mental retardation or other genetic disease? Or with six fingers or two heads for that matter?

Don't you recall the scene in Gattaca with the six-fingered man? (Well, 2*6 = 12 fingers, but I think that's what you meant.) It was beneficial for him to be this way.

I won't elaborate more on what I mean because I don't want to spoil that scene for those who haven't seen it yet. :)

Reading too much science fiction.... (1)

richieb (3277) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476049)

How many parents will choose ugly kids when they can be assured attractive ones? Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

JK and the popular press simply assume that such manipulation is possible. In fact the whole science of genetics is much more complex than that. How an organism develops is a rather complex interaction between the genes and the environment, that is and not at all predictable (except in very simplistic ways - i.e. human parents have human babies).

Just think, 50 years ago people were discussing the social consequences of nuclear powered cars, homes and airplanes and look what happened.

Of course, nothing stops people, goverments or corporations from abusing science for its own purposes. It's been done many times before. The interesting question is how to prevent it.


P.S. I wish JK would read more of Samuel Floorman's writing, rather than just referring to a single article (i.e. the tragic technology one).

Naziism (2)

Gkeeper80 (71079) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476050)

that's right, everyone looking attractive. Maybe they should all have blond hair and blue eyes too. Maybe, because we have this great new group of people the other people aren't needed anymore. all those lesser developed countries that can't afford to buy their children only take up our space. Mybe we should kill them all, we know they are inferior. They are different the nus, they must be inferior.

Sounds like grounds for another holocaust to me. Maybe you should think before you say that having no individuality is great.

Use peoples fear to bring about positive change (1)

Moeses (19324) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476051)

I think a large part of the population is inherently uncomfortable with the HGP. They don't like the idea of their genes being owned/patented/controlled by somebody else. Perhaps this large scale discomfort could be used politically to focus on intellectual property issues in general and help stamp out all the crazy patent work going on these days. Maybe people could be motivated through their emotional reactions to this topic to actually take a stand on these issues. Granted they will have to have someone to follow, someone to tap into their fears and present them with a political platform to stand behind. (I call not it)

It might be a little devious, but I think the this might be an ends justifies the means scenario.

Stupid article, for a number of reasons (1)

acfoo (98832) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476052)

a direction that makes Victor Frankenstein's primitive experiments look like a crossword puzzle.

That would be _fictional_ experiments. I mean, Frankenstein, despite that fact that it is well-known, isn't all that scary anyway.

The genome project evokes a world practically bursting with technological hubris, a universe in which all children would be born healthy, and suffering would be greatly reduced. What could be nobler or more inspiring?

Actually, more and more it evokes a world in which patent law has run amuck, and in which scientists, sensing a land grab with the possibility of nearly-unfathomable riches, try to patent everything in sight. I don't really understand the reasoning by which a gene sequence found in nature is patentable. I can certainly see patenting the method by which the gene is sequenced and patenting methods by which to alter genes, and even the arrangements that "fix" problematic genes, but not the gene itself. The whole process seems to me like patenting the alphabet, then claiming everyone owes you when they speak or write.

Offspring considered grotesque, revolting, impaired, repugnant or offensive could be eliminated.

COULD BE? Please review: China. Also, there are quite a few documeted cases of couples aborting a "flawed" child. If human embryology has already unleashed this problem, maybe we should be keeping an eye on it as well.

Every single technological advancement ahs an ethical dark side, usually one that is not dealt with until years later. The development of gunpowder, for instance, led to the handgun (many years later). Of course, many of these consequences are unknown at the time of discovery, or are too far in the future to be considered on a cost basis by the inventor. Name one technology, strting with fire, that humans have developed that does not have a down side in addition to an (at least at the time of discovery/devleopment) upside. This "boogy-man behind the science" scare story is neither fresh or particularly well done.

Not considered, by the way is the fact that knowing the content of the human genome does not necessarily mean that it is safe to mess with it. The time that it has taken just to sequence the genome should demonstrate that we are a long, long way from being able to "produce" people. After all, when you go after that "mousy-brown-hair" gene to make it a "Platinum-blonde" gene, you might screw up something important, like the ability to grow legs.

Oh well, fire away.

A map does not give directions ... (2)

tjwhaynes (114792) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476053)

Jon Katz raises all sorts of ethical worries surrounding the Human Genome project, but I feel he misses the point.

The Human Genome Project sets out to *map* the Human Genome - it does not set out to fully understand it. What it does give is a wealth of reference material to help researchers fighting disease and disability try and identify common traits in their subjects.

The Human Genome Project is *not* gene-therapy. It is *not* the new Frankenstein. It is not even being able to choose the appearance of your offspring. Too often the media ends up mistaking information about something as the means to actually do something - a bit like the difference between knowing that sufficient plutonium in the right place can go critical and actually trying to make an effective nuclear weapon. Witness the attempts made by governments all over the world to get a nuclear program going, and the number of successes. The theory is well understood - the practice is more difficult.

Will the Human Genome project change our lives? Possibly. But only as the result of building on the database of information it gives us. The opportunity to allow the development of therapies to improve the quality of life for many people should not be missed. I agree that there are many applications of this information that are ethically-questionable, or morally repugnant, but the Human Genome Project is not the application - it is merely the reference.

Maybe there should be a wider debate on the ethics of genetics, and genetic applications. It would be welcomed to see an informed and intelligent discussion, but with the current media's fixation with hyperbolae and sensation I fear that the important issues will once again get buried beneath an avalanche of "Frankenstein Foods" and similar headlines. Maybe that is an excessively cynical view but I repeatedly see important issues obscured by headline-grabbing stories running on people's fears. In this technological age, the public understanding of science is too often blurred and confused by scare stories in the general press - oh for a day when people are presented with unbiased information with which to make up their own minds.


Toby Haynes

data = total control ? (2)

turg (19864) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476054)

It seems to me that for each 'holy grail' in the sciences that has been achieved, the result has been that we discover things are far more complex than we realize.

Humans have this tendency (a "tower of Babel" complex?) to think "Ah, when we've achieved this thing, we will be in full control of the forces of nature" and when we get there, we often discover that even though we may have been "right" in our assumptions (e.g. the effect of each of these genes), there turn out to be an overwhelming number of other factors (e.g. eliminating the gene associated with X does not eliminate X). Sorta like the "butterfly effect" I guess (not that I want to start that argument up here).
"I am not trying to prove that I am right... I am only trying to find out whether." -Bertolt Brecht

Re:See "Gattaca" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476055)

are u for real. u are deferring your statments to a bad sci-fi movie, come on man. that is a hollywood view of what would happen. thats like saying if u want to know what really happened with the whole jesus thing go watch jesus of nazarath! come up with some of your own ideas, don't let hollywood tell u what to think!!

Undetectable aliens (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476056)

My biggest fear with the HGP is that the robotic
snakes will manipulate the research to their own
ends, in order to prove that the preternatural
pink worms are somehow connected with the
undetectable aliens (a simply ludicrous assertion). And yes, the undetectable aliens
have their problems, but I believe that they are
savvy enough to derail this potential PR nightmare before it's too late. As long as the robotic snakes don't succede in crying artificial tears, we will be okay.

JonKatz column from 1858 (5)

sparks (7204) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476057)

The use of antiseptics, often referred to on this site, may be the most inspiring and disturbing use of technology in contemporary science. It embodies the essential tragedy of contemporary technology; well-meaning people trying in the nobles way to improve the world; setting in motion forces few ordinary people understand, agree upon or are prepared for. Inspiring and disturbing - the use of antiseptics in surgery. Well meaning people are approaching what must surely be seen as a tragedy; the willing tragedy of modern science; running headlong into moral questions they are unprepared to deal with. Never before have we decided to alter the nature of life in such an inspiring and disturbing way. The project is a metaphor for everything that is right and inspiring about technology; and at one everything that is wrong and disturbing. Well meaning scientists have not considered the consequences. The project began in 1850, part of a country-wide effort led by inspired and disturbed maverick physician Joseph Lister. Working in obscurity in Scotland, he has uncovered an inspiring and disturbing truth about the essential nature of life; a new tragic revelation for out time. One with immense possiblities but yet tragicly disturbing consequences for the generation to come - that of the 1900s. Aided by microscopes tens and hundreds of times more powerful than those of even a few years ago, surgeons believe they have already identified the bacteria responsible for infecting surgical wounds. The enormous pace of technological development has led us to an inspiring yet tragic moment. We know which bacteria cause some of the dreadful post-surgery diseases of our time. And we know how to combat them. But has our society had sufficient time to decide if it indeed is something that we should be doing? Such is the technological tragedy of our time. There is no scientific consensus as to how far this project can go, or how quickly. Some geneticists have argued that the antiseptic project is a pipedream, that the dream of unraveling the strands of human disease are much more complex than than any scientific project can really grasp. But the history of medicine, optics, and chemistry all suggest that humanity is entering a new, tragic and nevitable era in the use of technology to alter human life. And there is a darker side to this radical, yet inspired, yet disturbing project, even though few people are considering it much. We have set out on a project whose goal is to alter the nature of human existence, without the interest of a single national political leader or a single parliamentry debate. In effect, people may begin to survive surgery in greater numbers. But is this what out postmodern society wants? Are we prepared to deal with a reduction in deaths following minor operations? Is this a GOOD THING, in our tragic yet disturbed society? "There is no such thing," writes Bishop John Milne, "as an entirely accidental co-incidence." And he's right. Which is why we must carefuly consider our response as a society to this inspiring and disturbing medical tragedy. In a world where people want to survive minor surgery, what might they pay for a clean operating theatre? And who will control and own the patents? And who will sell the technology? It is disturbing. It is tragic. It is inspired. But what can we do about it?

Genetic Engineering == next step of evolution? (1)

RenHoek (101570) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476058)

Is all this not just the next step in evolution?
With the caveman the darwinistic survival of the fittest stopped for humans, and nowadays everybody stays alive. I'm not saying this is ethically bad, but from a biological standpoint it is.
So without our genetic make-up becoming stronger due to natural selection, why not take the road that will enable us to better ourselves through genetic engineering? It's impossible to stop the knowledge or the technology to do this.
I'm not saying that it won't create any problems, afterall, the more power we humans get, the more trouble we stir up (think of biological weapons) and the the difference between have's and have not's will be huge if we as a society don't try to distribute everything.
But in the end the path will go there, and there is nobody that can stop it. We as the people of this world will just have to try and use our brains every step of the way.

As a sidenote, humankind has allready done a lot of risky things. For example the atombomb was thought to ignite the sky, and burn up the whole earth. Still they detonated it. Humankind has the damnest luck, and I just hope it holds out with this too.

Book recommendation: Woodsman, a book in a world where everything is genetically engineered, and everything is bio-based. Cars are just fast animals. Hamburgers come from plants. Nice to read.

The HGP is information gathering. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476059)

The Human Genome Program is, as was stated in the article, the process of mapping the billins of strands in the DNA. Simply put, it is the gathering of information and putting it all out there on paper.

What society as a whole does with that information is another story.

Gathering the information doesn't necessarily indicate its use.

I do have to admit that the article reads much like the entire story line for GATTICA (which is definitely worth seeing, although the title shyed a lot of people away from it when it was in the movies).

Re: He's the "Tori Spelling" of tech journalists. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476060)

Typical hackney journo trick -- create conflict, tension, fear and doubt where there presently is none. Katz, does your Dad own Andover, or what? Maybe Cosmopolitan or GQ is looking for "High Tech" commentators. Give it a try.

Oh the horror...? (2)

Louziffer (39872) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476061)

If the human genome project succeeds, most of these concerns will rendered moot. The goal of the project isn't just to map the human genetic code, but also to make the sequence totally and freely accessible to all. That would essentially remove the concerns regarding proprietary information and its use for purely financial gain.

Humanity will have a struggle, but with equal access for all, I doubt it will be the horror story some imagine it to be. Our society will not become anything like what is portrayed in the movie "Gattaca" [] , although some aspects of the technology portrayed in that movie will indeed pop up.

I think I can safely say that we all value our privacy a great deal. I just can't see the day when everyone will be so brain-dead that that isn't so. Some might argue that things are already becoming that way, but I see the opposite. I see privacy becoming a larger issue the more technology advances, not smaller.

Huxley and Orwell (Vonnegut & Wallace, too) (1)

Kartoffel (30238) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476062)

I think Katz has raised a valid point. That is: that the big brother of the future will be the Corporation, not the government. But it's more complicated that that. The world is so integrated and tied together now that smart organizations can have a HUGE impact on what goes on in the world.

Big brother is not a spy camera in the hallway, He is not a microphone under your desk at work, nor is He the group of sluggish good ol' boys in your local government. Now and in the future, Big Brother is the media, mega-corporations, the insidious trails of misinformation crafted in plain sight; causing the subtle mind control that influences everything we do.

Don't shoot the grad students (2)

heroine (1220) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476063)

Most of the people who work on the human genome project are married women commuting 50 miles and earning minimum wage working with radioactive isotopes all day. It's usually because they grew up thinking they were going to stay home and then their husband tells them they need to win the bread and what can you do. It's not like they spent their entire lives dreaming about changing the world.

As far as computers and genetics are concerned, 5% of biology is storage, alignment, and tree making on the computer and 95% manual labor in the lab so let's not get too excited about using a biology degree to get into IT.

Katz has done better (2)

bsletten (20271) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476064)

I usually get frustrated by the way Katz is treated by self-important /.'ers, but I think this was an article that could have been dropped in the bit bucket. Not a whole lot of new thoughts on the subject; mostly well-worn re-hashings of nebulous fear. The ethical consequences of technical innovations are worthy topics, but this was nothing new.

Brave New World is wrong (1)

jake_the_blue_spruce (64738) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476065)

Actually, Huxley's world maximized contentment, not happiness. There's a difference. And he made an assumption which may render his prediction invalid.

What does our society tends to maximize? I think our free-wheeling capitalism espouses to maximize production and profit. In such an environment, what are the ramifications of the introduction of genetic engineering? In the short term, production and profit would definitely be maximized by a populace of content workers, as in Brave New World. However, in the long run production and profit are maximized by scientific innovation, which comes out of discontent, creativity, and freedom.

The question we have to ask ourselves about whether to fear genetic engineering or not is whether or not our society is short-sighted.

Re:For Cryin' Out Loud (1)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476066)

In the future, everyone might be attractive, healthy, and sociable. Oh, the horror! Only Jon Katz could complain about that. Get over it, for cryin' out loud.

Alright this is rather interesting. Most slashdot readers/posters believe that the government is moving towards to evil antiutpoia where everyone follows the rules. Let's assume that this is indeed true. Ok so the evil government wants to control people but they loathe to do it with easily detectible means. So what better way then to stop rebellion at the source. Just genetically engineer stupid, vapid, but stunningly beautiful people. This is all too similar to Hitler's arian race concept.

Re:Things to remember (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476067)

No good guys or bad guys? That's a hip-sounding statement, but let's see...Adolph Hitler vs. Mother difference?

Re:Jon Katz is a moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476068)

If you think so, I suspect that you have already undergone some genetic redesign directed by the US government.

Was there a single thought in there? (4)

Kaa (21510) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476069)

We have set out on a project whose goal is to alter the nature of human existence, without the interest of a single national political leader or a single Congressional debate

And Katz speaks of this as if it were a BAD thing! Really, what could the interest of a politician, or of a whole bunch of congresscritters add to the debate except fuck it up?

In effect, children may be given genotypes

Er... genotype is an existing word. Look up its meaning in a dictionary (hint: you are using it incorrectly).

Why have an idiosyncratic or rebellious offspring when you can choose a cheerful and pliant one?

For a whole variety of reasons. I, for example, definitely don't want my kids to be cheerful and pliant consumer-drones. In my book being "strange" is good.

[human cloning] Too many people will want to use it, too much money can be made off of it.

So, what's bad about human cloning? You've spent paragaphs hinting darkly about unspeakable horrors, but what are they? What is all that awful and horrible about human cloning? After all when it happens naturally and twins are born, nobody seems to be all that excited about it...

Are we comfortable living in a world in which whose categories of humanity - the retarded, the blind, the disabled - will disappear from our part of the earth?

Well, I don't know about Katz but I would be perfectly comfortable living in the world where there are no disabled people. I would also like to ask -- is Katz comfortable living in the world where nobody is sick with bubonic plague? How could he stay in the US where it is so hard to find cholera sufferers? And, to think, for example, about the artificialness of prostheses -- why, in the good old days if you lost a leg, you just lived without a leg, not tried to put on these awful metal-and-plastic contraptions -- right, Katz?

What about developing and Third-World nations, where few will have access to Perfect Baby technologies?

You mean if everybody can't have it, nobody should have it? I thought that this was a basic idea of Russian communism in the 20s, but it kinda went out of fashion since then.

A generation ago, who could have imagined that one company would have its software in more than 90 per cent of the personal computers in the world?

A generation ago who could have imagined personal computers? Besides, a generation (maybe 1.5 generations) ago one company had a presence in every American home and controlled the communications of the entire nation. Yes, I'm talking about Ma Bell. And, pray tell, what horrible things came out of this?

All in all, this is another content-free rant.


Think about it... (1)

Wubby (56755) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476070)

Your dream is to be a pilot. Your vision is 20/20,
you are in great shape, spent thousands of dollors
on lessons. All you want to do is fly a plane.

Now you want a job. You get called in for an
interview for the perfect position as an airline

HR asks for a tissue sample...HUH? "We need it
for genetic screening, just a formality."

Next day... phone call. "We are sorry, but due
to a you being geneticly prone to heart disease
our insurance company will not allow us to hire
you for this position. We do have an opening in
janitorial services, though."

Get it now?


Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476071) the fuck was that about!! and could u say open source one more time!!! if u are going to write in, write it, but don't just wtite a bunch of crap!

What on earth is the problem?? (1)

frog51 (51816) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476072)

I can't understand why people have a problem with "tampering with nature." Until we became farmers and altered our environment we were no better than all other animals. We have changed foods by breeding, and now when we can do it quickly through gene splicing people yell "Blasphemy!" The logical step is to alter ourselves and our offspring. We subconsciously alter our potential offspring anyway by picking a partner who fits our ideal - this puts a huge bias on possible gene patterns in the child.

If we can remove all genetically transmitted diseases then we should, obviously. I don't think all future parents will want "perfect" offspring though. Even if we get that level of control over genes we will still want individuality for them.

Okay, so it is kind of a stand in for evolution, but we've lost a lot of the benefits of Darwinian selection anyway with the high levels of medical skill keeping alive those who in a wilder world would have died.

I say create a million versions of humans so we can survive everywhere - underwater, Mars, Venus, in poisonous atmospheres - or else we get too close to extinction from 1 event.

Anyone want a copy of my genes??

Genetic engineering, next step? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476073)

Well, from a certain standpoint, it seems that genetic engineering is the natural evolution of technology. At first evolution introduced a change in an organism in response to the environment. Then, when humans developed technology, we could change the environment to suit our genetics. Now that we are using our tools to change our genetics to better suit the environment (both physical world and social-cultural environment). From an objective view (as objective as a subjective being like me) the technology will happen, and it will work, although 'work' is not going to be defined by us but rather the people who eventually succeed in using it.

Nature vs Nurture (1)

Pennywise (92193) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476074)

Katz seems to be assuming that some genetic tweaking can produce people who behave exactly as you want them to. While I don't disagree that a person's genetic structure will have _some_ effect on how they behave, I'm not totally convinced that it controls all behaviour ( or even most of it ). What about a person's upbringing and the society around them? What do other readers think?

A generation ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476075)

>A generation ago, who could have imagined that one company would have its software in more than 90 per cent of the personal computers in the world?

A generation ago, PC's (effectively) did not exist for 99.999% of the population. IBM was being pursued by the DoJ for antitrust reasons. Maybe we _can_ imagine 90% control of the computer market by one company.

What you should have said was that a generation ago, who could imagine how integrated and powerful physically small computers have become in our lives, and that near-complete control of this market would be by one company.

Going against the flow (1)

benenglish (107150) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476076)

I know this is an astoundingly perverse thought, but what happens if everyone agrees with a given notion of what their babies should be like? What happens if, by an unspoken consensus, everyone builds generally pliant, pretty, semi-smart, fully-inside-the-box kids?

What happens when, in a century or so when everyone is the same, a mutated spark of creativity catches fire in the mind of a prospective parent?

"Doc? Uh...I know this is a bit unusual, but since the Parent's Right to Offspring Specification Act of 2024 gives me the right to completely control how you spec out this kid, I have some special requests. Make him bigger, meaner, crueler, more ambitious than anything ever done before. Kill the conscience completely. Average intelligence is ok, but compassion is a complete no-no."

On the tube home, said parent-to-be then uses their implanted commlink to call their spouses: "Robin? Pat? I did it! Our kid is gonna rule the world!"

Brrr. Kinda gives me the chills.

HGP gives me hope and scares the hell outta me.... (1)

God I hate mornings (110205) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476077)

Whilst some /. readers seem bent on flaming Katz's article, I think some may have missed the point.
As a parent (those who read my rant about geek profiling will remember my now 8 week old son), I don't know if I would want to have a choice of how my next child would turn out. I think it's great watching my son grow into his own UNIQUE person.
Unique - that's what I'm getting at. If we start choosing what our babies would be like - would we not then end up with a world where everyone is (more or less) like everyone else?
Nah.. no thanks. Sure right now the world is imperfect, people are different and we make mistakes. But think how boring life would be if we were like everyone else.

Its a shame (1)

SilverFate (113951) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476078)

The real shame is those who see genes as the secret to human achievement. It is our minds, our willpower and our emotions that are the real secret. The insane have built vast empires, a blind men given us the most famouse poems of all history. Possably flawed genes, though we may never know, caused these, but the point is that it was not their genes or anything else physical that made them great it was those intagable things of human nature that drove them to achieve, their soul you could say.

[Y]our wisemen don't know what its like to be thick as a brick - Ian Anderson, "Thick as a Brick"

A few thoughts (1)

lovebyte (81275) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476079)

First, computer advances have helped but have not been the main reason for the speed up in sequencing the genome as Mr. Katz said. The main reason was, surprisingly, progress in sequencing technology!
Secondly, it might be even more scary than JonKatz wrote. In a few years time (I am not sure exactly when), great apes genomes will also be known. And then if you make a `diff` between human and great ape genome what do you get? A few monkey specific genes that are related to the amount of hairs. And ... all the genes that make us smarter than them. So we'll know relatively easily what are the genes linked to intelligence. Scary!
Maybe we'll find that most AC first posters are closer to monkeys than we thought. Or probably not!

Re:Uplift (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476080)

Ummm... haven't the government ALWAYS run NASA? It was NEVER not run by the government. Unless I was asleep for 3 decades or something ;-)

Re:Perhaps we're all forgetting something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476081)

Sorry - offtopic, but "perfect baby" and "Leonardo DiCaprio" in the same sentence just has to be oxymoronic, or just moronic.

What the HECK?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476082)

A Jon Katz article I liked? The world really is ending! My only caveat is his blurb about MS at the end. Not everything revolves around computers. Mike Latiolais (not a coward, just too lazy to log in)

Re:Morality != Egotism (2)

kmcardle (24757) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476083)

In fact we have a DUTY to genetically engineer our children as soon as it is safe. Standing by and lettting someone be maimed is nearly as bad as maiming them ourselves.
Back the f*cking truck up! My son (as I do) has allergies. He most likely got them from me. Are you saying that I'm a bad person for giving him allergies? I don't think so. I would never hurt my children intentionally. I am not maiming my children by not having them genetically engineered.

Bad genes are weeded out of the gene pool by natural selection. Darwin anyone? The human race will become a genetic utopia in time. Give us a few million years, and I think we'll all be better off.

As far as causing harm by not acting, that just pissed me off. How dare you accuse parents of maiming their children! Have a few kids and then rethink this argument.


Re:Unnatural Selection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476084)

is choosing between good and bad sperm&egg worst than it was with natural selection ?
does ppl would prefer letting misfit human die as in the old way of evolution ?
right now we're not evolving. worst: we're degenerating. its simple, evolve or become extinct. we lost the old fashion way of evolving, we need a new one to at least keep ourselves from degenerating any further.

good side of the GNOME project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1476085)

I use GNOME every day - it works fine so what if some people might abuse it that's THEIR responsibility. not the responsibility of GNOME!

Interesting (2)

Zoltar (24850) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476086)

Well... I'm pleasantly surprised to see an article by Katz that isn't totally reactionary and jumping on the bandwagon of some horrible incident :) anyways...

This is fascinating stuff but I'm not sure that we really need to worry about the *if it's right or wrong* issue. There is no way to stop technology and it's been on a major roll these days.

I have to wonder about the "soul" of these new genetic beings that we are going to create. I know it's not something that can be scientificly measured, but I believe we all have them. (souls that is..well... most of us have them...:) So what happens to the soul of these *creatures* ?

Eugenics, no way (5)

AngryMob (89923) | more than 14 years ago | (#1476089)

This article is meaningless, and this is why:

First of all, Katz fails to qualify WHY exactly he is afraid of genetic selection - does he fear that everyone will, amazingly, select for the same thing? I don't agree. First of all, even when the HG is decoded, people won't agree on what's the 'better' standard - everyone doesn't go out and say, "Hey, let me go marry a blonde, so I can have blonde babies, because blonde babies are better!" - so why would they when they can choose it genetically?

And if you're going to debate things like intelligence, it's unclear, even, how much they are genetically determined. Idiosyncracies of personality seem to have reasonably high heritability, but intelligence estimates vary drastically (read the Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray for pro-inherited intelligence, search PubMed [] for hundreds of journal rebuttals of their dubious conclusions). Science isn't even close to agreeing on the genetic nature of intelligence.

And, assuming in the future that they do find that intelligence is genetically determined, would Katz contend that genetic enhancement of intelligence is evil? That it's more 'human' and 'natural' to have stupider kids? I fail to see the meaning of such sentiments - they're simply vacuuous blubbering and fear of change.

Finally, any sort of eugenics is impossible. First, there's no one to enforce any standard - who will decide, with an open Human Genome, what's good and what's bad? Not the government, certainly. No matter what, people will always have the right to normal children, and so it's impossible for the government to try and restrict genomic choice. GATTACA, fine, maybe. Nice dream. Not going to happen. There's nothing inherently evil in the knowledge of the Human Genome - if the government was going to pursue eugenics in a socially dominating manner, it would have done it already. The Nazis tried, certainly. We can see how well they did.

I agree with those who say that the Human Genome is going to be mostly positive. Genetic profiling may happen, I agree. It's likely that even with legislation against it you'll see genetic discrimination - but against what characteristics? Has anyone ever agreed on what makes a better human being? Why do you assume that, once we know the DNA code for the genome, everyone suddenly will?

Sorry, i'm not buying it.

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