One of my photos

Gene mapping

April 25th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Technology · 3 Comments · Technology

I still don’t know whether to be impressed or a bit scared by today’s article about gene mapping.  I can remember hearing about the Human Genome Project when it started, and even before then when it was being talked about.  Back then it sounded like one of those impossible tasks, or at best something that would take a generation to complete.

When the film Gattaca came out in 1997 the project had been running for seven years with no sign of it finishing (it eventually did come up with results six years later) making the movie seem implausible for two reasons: that sequencing could be done on demand in minutes, and that the results of gene mapping would totally dominate society. Not that any of that detracted from it being a visually stunning film, but back then it seemed about as plausible as Star Wars.
Now that scientists say they have completed a gene mapping in a mere four weeks at a cost of only $100,000 with a trend that could lead to the whole thing taking only two days for a cost of $100 I’m not so sure.  From that to a 15-minute test is only a small step.

In theory this opens the door to all sort of eugenicists’ wet dreams.   Using the results to prevent children being born with certain congenital conditions is the benign possibility, but the darker possibilities are to ‘breed out’ certain characteristics deemed to be unwanted or try to encourage other characteristics.  While I don’t think we are going to produce a government that wants to do that sort of thing I wouldn’t have the same confidence in all the various governments of the world.

That isn’t a reason to stifle the technology of course,  but suddenly all sorts of science fiction plots come to mind – like the time machine or Brave New World with ‘epsilons’ or ‘morlocks’ being created deliberately to provide a slave caste.  Its scary when the fiction of the possible becomes the fiction of the plausible.

I imagine Michael Crichton is already polishing off the first draft of a novel based on an extrapolation of this breakthrough…


3 Comments so far ↓

  • skud's sister

    I guess some of the simplest genetic manipulation would come first – choosing gender reliably for example. And while this would be useful for preventing gender specific diseases there will be people who see being female, for example, as almost as bad as a disease. (Although a Bangladeshi friend was very glad that she had the baby girl she was hoping for…)

  • Allan Barker

    Hi there,
    Gene mapping and the human Genome project are great, as long as they stay directed towards medical research and developing cures for major diseases. I’m a bit unsure about the “gene shopping” culture to pick the perfect baby. Won’t we all end up as clones of each other?

    Allan Barker

  • Skuds

    Thats the problem isn’t it? Where do you draw the line between medical conditions and merely ‘undesirable’ characteristics?