The Flip Side of Science: An Introduction to Genomics

Yashwant Kale General, General Knowledge Leave a Comment

Genomics: An Introduction

As this is era of science and technology you must have heard about GENES and GENETICS.But do you know about GENOMICS ? The word Genomics derives from the term GENOME meaning the complete genetic makeup of an organism. While thinking about Human being the sum total of all human cells that contain about 4000 genes. The Human Genome Project, which is being conducted on a global scale and has been in the news since it began in the mid-Eighties, aims to construct detailed physical and genetic maps pertaining to the human genome. This will in turn, determine the human DNA’s full nucleotide sequence in order to localize an estimated 50,000–1,00,000 genes with the human genome.

Studying the human DNA in the greatest possible details and unraveling its various mysteries is the principal aim of the Human Genome Project. It will study the organization, structure and functions of the human DNA as also all information that goes into the making of a fundamental set of “instructions” that are inherited for the proper development and subsequent functioning of a human being. As there are great benefits from Human Genome Project , some drawbacks are there too…

The Dark Side

Dangerous cloning: Despite its multifaceted benefits, genomics also has a dark side to it. This has been the subject of much debate and controversy the world over, particularly in the sphere of cloning that caught public fancy when Dolly, the sheep was cloned. Pertinent questions were raised about genetic manipulation that would result in creating Frankensteins of the past and which in the long run could surely affect society at large.

Designer Babies: It has also raised fears about would be parents determining or even dictating which characteristics their children would inherit even before they were born and eventually give rise to the concept of the “designer baby.” Genomics is also expected to restrict the gene pool of humans and also interface with natural selection, leading to diversity loss among the global human population. Moreover, any misuse of available genetic information could violate the concept of genetic privacy. A recent observation reveals that even life or health insurance policies could be taken or altered unfairly based on the individual’s genetic information.

Unfair Edge: Even though it’s also true that genomics has proved effective in advancing the medical sciences by predicting beforehand what a human being is likely to suffer from later in life, even before he is born, it is most likely to widen the gap existing between the developed and developing countries because the former only will stand to benefit from advances made through the project in the sphere of medical sciences.

Geneism: Scientists and psychiatrists feel that the ability to predict which disease a person may suffer from beforehand is also likely to increase stress levels in people even when they are apparently healthy at present. The concept of Geneism also comes into play as those diagnosed with genetic malfunctions could be advised not to procreate further because of the risk of transmitting their own faulty genes to their offspring. This again is subject to conjecture as a faulty gene may or may not get transmitted to the future generation.

Unfair Discrimination: There is also a distinct possibility that insurers and employers would discriminate unfairly on those who have a strong likelihood to contract a serious ailment in future as determined by genetic studies. It would be impossible to get a life insurance policy and premiums payable would obviously be higher. Employers similarly would prefer to employ those with a healthy future rather than those who face a risk of contracting a serious illness in future.

An article published in the London Times over five years ago had the headline, “Do we want another Hitler?”. This showed the concern over the dark side of genomics, which if successful in its primary pursuits, could lead to the creation of another Hitler or an unwanted tyrant who has left a dark yet indelible mark in the history of the world. The misuse of genomics, moreover, could enhance racial discrimination and prejudice, a social evil that simply cannot be eliminated, no matter how sincere the efforts may have been.

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