Apr. 14th, 2017

mtbc: maze J (red-white)
Yesterday on the way home from work I was listening to somebody on the radio telling us about redundancy in the human genome; perhaps they referenced cystic fibrosis. Broadly, my impression is that multiple copies of genes may often be found among our genome: if one is damaged then the corresponding protein will be still be sufficiently expressed through transcription of the other copies. Perhaps in some cases there are also quite different proteins expressed that serve the same function.

Further, my impression is that conditions like cystic fibrosis arise when somebody's copy of a gene from both parents is damaged so they have no gene that expresses whatever useful thing from which those of us without cystic fibrosis benefit, and that gene therapy can be used to somehow change our actual DNA: at least, gene editing is now far enough along to make changes inheritable, though naturally such as to excite the ethicists.

I therefore wonder: can some of these congenital diseases be eradicated by having enough of us bear more copies of the genes of which carriers of the condition have a damaged copy? Perhaps not, for various reasons: for example, maybe having too much of the protein expressed is even worse, or maybe something else that just slipped my mind before I could write it.

I should add that I have much faith in natural selection: I suspect that many things that might seem wrong about our genome are as they are for good reasons that we have yet to realize. Further, that for some years now the lesson from life sciences research has repeatedly been, actually, it's not as simple as that. Still, one can't help but wonder about tinkering when the technology exists and people suffer so. Modern society values each individual human life rather more than natural selection does.

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Mark T. B. Carroll

September 2017

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