Earlier this week, Professor Steve Jones made an audacious claim by stating the following:
…In ancient times half our children would have died by the age of twenty. Now, in the Western world, 98% of them are surviving to the age of 21. Our life expectancy is now so good that eliminating all accidents and infectious diseases would only raise it by a further two years. Natural selection no longer has death as a handy tool…
Hmmm, human evolution is slowing down because we’re not dying off so young anymore. Okay, maybe that’s true. But the Prof doesn’t stop there:
…Small populations which are isolated can change – evolve – at random as genes are accidentally lost. Worldwide, all populations are becoming connected and the opportunity for random change is dwindling. History is made in bed, but nowadays the beds are getting closer together. Almost everywhere, inbreeding is becoming less common. In Britain, one marriage in fifty or so is between members of a different ethnic group, and the country is one of the most sexually open in the world. We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.”
He added: “So, if you are worried about what utopia is going to be like, don’t; at least in the developed world, and at least for the time being, you are living in it now.”
“We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.” Uh, sure. Tell us something we don’t already know.
It’s no-brainer that Caucasian people in the United States will be a minority by 2050. Not a big deal in my view.
Then again I’m not a KKKer, neo-nazi or a Dominionist Fundie either. But I digress and the point of Jones’ argument is that as the worlds’ population becomes more homogenous, evolution slows down or stops.
I really doubt that hypothesis, and not only because he claims that we’re in an evolutionary “utopia” now.
If this is utopia, what’s this guys’ definition of Purgatory?
Anyways, an article by Johnjoe McFadden in the guardian.co.uk makes the claim that selective genetic engineering will bring a flowering of human variety, free of death and disease:
Modifying heritable genes is presently considered to be unacceptable, at least in humans, because we would be tinkering with our genetic inheritance. But is that such a bad thing? Our genes are the products of billions of years of evolution – chance mutations – that were selected because they provided an advantage to one or more of our ancestors. But sometimes, random mutations can damage our genes. If that damage is in a skin or muscle cell then it won’t be a problem (at least not to our children). But if the damaged gene is in an egg or sperm cell that our children will inherit the damaged gene and may suffer a genetic disease. If they have children (perhaps before knowing they are carrying a genetic defect) then their children may also be afflicted. Given enough evolutionary time, it is likely that unchecked natural selection would eventually remove damaged genes from the population; but should we wait that long? Thousands of children are born each year with defects, such as heart problems, that we have no hesitation in correcting. If we have the technology to correct defects in their genes then isn’t it in the interests of the common good to do so?
Gene therapy of human genetic diseases in affected embryos is almost certainly within reach. The team that gave us Dolly the sheep also generated Polly the sheep, the world’s first transgenic animal, in 1997. Polly’s DNA was engineered, while she was still an embryo, to contain a copy of a human gene. It is likely that similar approaches could be used to correct gene defects in human embryos.
But why should we stop with deadly diseases? Wouldn’t you want your children to also have a longer life with lower risk of cancer or heart disease? With more genes linked to common diseases turning up every day, it won’t be too long before gene therapy is available to screen out even common ailments. If the technology was available to ensure that your children lived their lives free of cancer, wouldn’t you take it?
Well, I’d be first in line for gene tailored meds to cure the chronic crap illnesses I have, McFadden would get no argument from me!
But would specialized genetic engineering spur new evolution in human beings?
I believe it could, if humans expanded out into the Solar System and interstellar space.
Mars? Why bother with space suits. Engineer humans to breath thin carbon dioxide air, grow thick skin to combat solar radiation and sprout solar “wings” to collect sunlight for food!
Micro-gravity a problem? Engineer an extra two-chamber heart in the groin area to pump blood more evenly, activate genes to make more bone calcium and muscle mass and engineer antibodies to resist cosmic radiation!
You get my point.
Yeah, I know, more space geek shit. But hey, this could help herald a new ‘Cambrian Explosion!’