Tag Archives: meat

Suicide genes? Just kill me now

I’m in the middle of writing a grant, so I’ll have to leave it as an exercise for the reader to think about the implications of genetic profiling of potential suicides, as hinted at in this story over at Forbes. Six genes predict suicides among those with bipolar disorder. As attentive followers will guess, my criticism is not that such correlations are impossible—it’s that they are inevitable.

Manet’s The Suicide

Hmm, possibly there’s a future piece on why a conservative money mag seems to be emerging as a bastion of the new genetic determinism…

DNA Ink

We’ve been pretty serious for a while, which always makes me a little edgy. And “tattoos” or some version thereof continues to be one of the biggest search terms for this blog. So, to raise the font size of “tattoos” in the tag cloud, I’ve put together a gallery of eye candy.

In their 1994 book, The DNA Mystique, Susan Lindee and Dorothy Nelkin write that “habitual images and familiar metaphors…provide the cultural forms that make ideas communicable.” The double helix is the scientific icon of our age—much like the Bohr atom was during the Cold War. Putting it on your body identifies you with science, with biotechnology, with life. It is also just a stone beautiful image, which works in a line, say down your spine, wrapped around a biceps or ankle, or curving sinuously just about anywhere. The best collection of science-themed tattoos of course is Carl Zimmer’s “Science Tattoo Emporium.” Many of these were borrowed from his archive, so a big hat-tip (tat-hip?) to him. I have the hardcover version Science Ink prominently displayed on my coffee table. Others drawn from elsewhere around the web. Click the picture to open the original url.

tree-dna

A DNA riff on the Darwinian image of the “tree of life.” But it of course also reminds me of the eugenics tree…

eugenics-tree

Foot tattoos are hard. Here's a cute rendition of unwinding DNA that flows nicely with the anatomy.

Foot tattoos are hard. Here’s a cute rendition of unwinding DNA that flows nicely with the anatomy.

Not the best execution of the image (no major and minor grooves), but a neat black-light effect that reminds me of fluorescent labeling.

Not the best execution of the image (no major and minor grooves), but a neat black-light effect that reminds me of fluorescent labeling.

Just. Wow.

Just. Wow.

All right, I admit I'm wondering whether this represents bacterial DNA (and is therefore circular).

All right, I admit I’m wondering whether this represents bacterial DNA (and is therefore circular).

An interesting “biomechanical” visual effect.

Here artist Jason Stomber has woven the double helix into a full sleeve.

Here artist Jason Stomber has woven the double helix into a full sleeve.

Clever use of the DNA icon by a pair of twin sisters. Of course, when they line them up, they become prokaryotes.

Clever use of the DNA icon by a pair of twin sisters. Of course, when they line them up, they become prokaryotes.

 

 

The gene for hubris


A recent post by Jon Entine on the Forbes website leads with a complimentary citation of my book– and then goes on to undermine its central thesis. He concludes:

Modern eugenic aspirations are not about the draconian top-down measures promoted by the Nazis and their ilk. Instead of being driven by a desire to “improve” the species, new eugenics is driven by our personal desire to be as healthy, intelligent and fit as possible—and for the opportunity of our children to be so as well. And that’s not something that should be dismissed lightly.

Well, first of all, as the recent revelations of coerced sterilization of prisoners in California shows, “draconian, top-down” measures do still occur. Genetics and reproduction are intensely potent, and wherever we find abuse of power we should be alert to the harnessing of biology in the service of tyranny.

Second, there’s more than one kind of tyranny. Besides the tyranny of an absolute ruler, perhaps the two most potent and relevant here are the tyranny of the commons and the tyranny of the marketplace. The fact that they are more subtle makes them in some ways more dangerous. The healthcare industry does much good in the world, but it is naive to treat it as wholly benign.

Further, putting human evolution in the hands of humans, means accepting long-term consequences for short-term goals. The traits we value–health, intelligence, beauty–are the result of the action of many genes interacting with each other and with a dynamic environment. The entire system is contingent, inherently unpredictable. Yet we treat it as simple and deterministic. Until now, technology has been the major obstacle to guiding human evolution. It may be that now the major obstacle is our reasoning ability, our capacity for grasping contingency and probability and change. We’re tinkering with the machinery of a system whose complexity is still unfolding before us. The probability of unforeseen consequences is 100%. The only question is how severe they will be. We will only know in retrospect.

If we now have the tools to meaningfully guide our own evolution–as eugenicists have always wanted to do–we cannot take a blithe and Panglossian attitude. We have to be alert to the risks and take them seriously. That is not traditionally science’s strong suit. The public face of science is sunny, optimistic, fun. It strides boldly into the future, laughing and making striking promises. The industries behind science and health are wealthy and politically powerful. Not everything they do is benign.

To be a critic of that public-relations machine–of hype, in other words–is not to be a critic of health or knowledge or progress. Genetic science has the potential to bring us enormous benefits in health and well-being, and as they do, I stand in line with my fellow humans for my fair share. But that science also carries huge and unforeseeable risks, the root of which, perhaps, is arrogance. It’s one whose consequences are painfully evident in the historical record.

 

The Arsehole Gene

There is a tragic epidemic plaguing us–particularly in the U.S. and in France. Assholes, or, as the Brits say, arseholes. The philosopher Aaron James, in his breakthrough work, Assholes: A Theory, has defined an asshole as a person with an entrenched sense of entitlement who is immune to criticism of his behavior.

Until now, these people have been blamed for their behavior, but genetic science has uncovered a mutation in a gene, dubbed the “arsehole gene,” that leads to the creation of an asshole. Here is a link to a touching new documentary by Eric Romero that chronicles the discovery. Please watch it and pass on the link.

DNA spoofing

Okay, there could not be a more apt title for a Genotopia post. This conceptual art piece is scientifically silly, almost frivolous, but it makes a serious point (I know!): the prospect of genetic surveillance is creepy. I love the notion of “genetic ambiguity.”

http://ahprojects.com/projects/dna-spoofing