Forcing Evolution?

magilum
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Forcing Evolution?

I've heard that humanity has reached an evolutionary plateau. Since we have marginalized many of the natural threats which would cull the population of those lacking athleticism or ingenuity, those traits are not being concentrated in the gene pool. Which is as it ought to be, really. I don't see any advantage in going back to a more primitive and savage society. I also don't want to have some rehash of the Lynchburg Colony, or other depraved eugenics experiments.

 

Since our moral framework, rightly, won't allow us to spur change--and it's debatable whether the changes encouraged by a harsher world would even be helpful to the kind of society we're accustomed to--is humanity destined to stagnate? Was "Idiocracy" more than just a farce? I look forward to a day when it will be a trivial matter for a doctor to look at the genes of a parent, identify potential congenital problems, and correct them in the next generation. If a family line is predisposed to Multiple Sclerosis, or bone cancer, a treatment could be applied to prevent the problem before it even starts.

 

In this imaginary world, I would hope regulations would be strictly upheld, to prevent tampering in the genes of future offspring for vanity, or to prevent homosexuality, or curly hair, or other acceptable variations on the human prototype. It wouldn't be bad, though, if things like intelligence could be enhanced where a deficiency is anticipated, or if disabilities could be corrected genetically.

 

Is this morally OK? Is this scientifically plausible? Compensating for the loss of external factors in the development of the human species?


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Not all pressures on

Not all pressures on homo-sapiens have ended. There are a number of factors still driving changes. Mostly mental changes, but there are physical factors as well.

I should also point out that humanity as a whole is not morally against eugenics. There are exceptions, and likely always will be. I think as a result the intentional manipulation of human genetics is inevitable, though controvercial.

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I've heard of one

I've heard of one interesting thing happening that has to do with a concentration of people with heriditary traits. Silicon Valley is supposedly becoming a capitol for autism cases, due to the breeding of parents attracted to tech jobs. They tend to have sub-threshold autism themselves. I'm curious what other concentrations of genetic characteristics are showing up in society today.


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I've also heard that there

I've also heard that there may be some evidence that some of today's more mysterious disorders may actually be a result of an increased resistence to various parasites or other more serious conditions that are common today. So I don't know that we can really say that we've stopped evolving entirely, although none of that is conclusive yet.

One of the major human traits, though, is that we adapt our environment to our needs, rather than adapting to the enviornment ourselves. As such, I would expect our evolution to go much more slowly than many other animals, simply because we don't need to. If an ice age came tomorrow, we would just make a lot more thick clothing, heating appliances, and more heavily insulated homes; we wouldn't need to change anything about our bodies to survive. It would just changed the way we live.


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If, as a species, we've

If, as a species, we've adapted our environment to suit our needs, what if that environment and lifestyle is untenable or unsustainable? If we considered ourselves masters of our own moral destiny, able to shape ourselves for future generations, not only using natural means, but by manipulating our own composition, is that something we ought to do? What if the human mind had the ability to think at scales beyond the self-centered numbers we're able to comprehend? For instance, what it really feels like to try to emphathize with a million starving people. What it would mean if we started a war with a potential to destroy hundreds of thousands of lives. We're currently better able to understand the suffering of an individual than of the plural. If we could understand it, would we be more compelled, if not helpless, to give of ourselves to balance the inequalities of a world in vast contradiction of our moral stances? You'd think charity work, peace corp stuff, would be priority one. It isn't, and I think it's because our social abilities don't scale well enough.


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We're not in an

We're not in an "evolutionary platuea", we are just in a "change platuea". Evolution constantly works on all populations at all times, our environment just happens to be pretty nice to us, so selection pressure is not very strong. However, there is still selection pressure. There is always selection pressure.

 Think of things that would kill people today before they could reproduce. Congenital diseases that kill in early childhood, congenital sterilization diseases, etc. Those things are not widespread in the population because they are selected out of the population by natural selection.

 But we are not only subject to natural selection, we are also subject to sexual selection. Every person has genetically defined sexual preferences. People who are sexually attractive will tend to have more sex than people who do not, and for that matter possibly will have more babies. Even if this advantage is slight, it still creates an evolutionary trend in the population towards more "attractive" individuals. (keep in mind, since this is different for every population and the advantage is so slight, this trend is very very slow).

 Also, things that would have once given us an evolutionary advantage are now useless and free to be be mutated out of the population. If a person is born without wisdom teeth today, they would not die. They probably would have in a past, tribal society, but since wisdom teeth are unnecessary today, any mutations that remove them or decrease their size are not selected out. Gradually, the tendency for wisdom teeth disappears from the population as its genetic basis is corrupted by mutation.

 In africa, people are continually selected for malarial resistance via sickle-cell anemia, and in areas where there are no malaria-carrying mosquitos, sickle cell anemia is selected out of the population for its life-shortening costs.

 We are constantly evolving to suit our environment, even if that evolution is made slow and imperceptable by our environment. The only thing that will seriously affect this is widespread contraceptive use and artificial insemmination practices,  eugenics or genetic engineering.

 

I do not have a problem with genetic engineering as long as it doesn't pose a threat to the livelyhood of people. Eugenics is another issue, and since it restrains free will it is morally deplorable. 


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Attractiveness makes people

Attractiveness makes people more desirable as mates, but I don't know if that really has anything to do with physically unattractive people breeding. Don't the unattractive people of a society find mates in eachother? Or with more or less attractive people depending on other facors, like status? You could be right, but I need data for that claim.
On the original topic, because outside factors don't affect the species to the same degree in the past, does it not behoove us to compensate for the detrimental genes being passed on in our society? Genetic engineering is a way that seems to let humanity eat its cake (humane and moral attitudes) and have it too (the refinement of the gene pool to reduce congenital problems). 


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Natural selection never

Natural selection never stops, so while humans may be learning to and gaining a bit more of control over our genetic future, we'll never take nature out of the equation.

Sickle cell and malaria resistance was already mentioned, but we also have things like lactose tolerance - which is spreading in humans as genes intermingle. Many tribal cultures and native Eurasian cultures have relied on cattle milk and blood for milennia. Asiatic people tend not to deal with dairy well, but the tolerance to lactose in all globalized populations is increasing. This is a direct result of the human race becoming essentially global and freely intermixing and the introduction of different diets into other cultures.

We'll also likely never escape the perpetual mutagenic arms race between ourselves and lowly bacteria and viruses. There is very good evidence in fact that survivors of the black death in Europe a few centuries ago also have genetic resistences to viroids like HIV, for example.

Even if we get to the point of purely engineering our offspring, there WILL be limits, and those limits will be manifest both phsyically (how much we can manipulate the genome) and mentally (how intellectually capable we are of understanding what we are toying with).

If we do get into massive genetic manipulation, I think we should proceed cautiously. Genetic diversity is the best gaurantee of species survival when it comes to disease and other such maladies.

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magilum

magilum wrote:
Attractiveness makes people more desirable as mates, but I don't know if that really has anything to do with physically unattractive people breeding. Don't the unattractive people of a society find mates in eachother? Or with more or less attractive people depending on other facors, like status? You could be right, but I need data for that claim.
On the original topic, because outside factors don't affect the species to the same degree in the past, does it not behoove us to compensate for the detrimental genes being passed on in our society? Genetic engineering is a way that seems to let humanity eat its cake (humane and moral attitudes) and have it too (the refinement of the gene pool to reduce congenital problems).

 Well, like I said, the advantage is extremely tiny in modern society, but it does exist. More attractive people tend to be more promiscuous, find more mates, and most importantly, have sex earlier than less attractive people. Even if this means that attractive people have on average a very small fraction more babies than unnatractive people, their genes will be selected in the gene pool.

 And yes, I would say it would be nice to remove genetic defects from the outset if we can and its safe. Cosmetic genetic engineering would be a logical next-step, but that's getting into a fuzzy moral area. (For instance, richer people would tend to have smarter babies because they can afford genetic engineering, and good genes would be monopolized by the richest of people. This would be quite unfair for society as a whole, and might widen the income disparity gap).


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Yellow_Number_Five

Yellow_Number_Five wrote:

Natural selection never stops, so while humans may be learning to and gaining a bit more of control over our genetic future, we'll never take nature out of the equation.

Sickle cell and malaria resistance was already mentioned, but we also have things like lactose tolerance - which is spreading in humans as genes intermingle. Many tribal cultures and native Eurasian cultures have relied on cattle milk and blood for milennia. Asiatic people tend not to deal with dairy well, but the tolerance to lactose in all globalized populations is increasing. This is a direct result of the human race becoming essentially global and freely intermixing and the introduction of different diets into other cultures.

We'll also likely never escape the perpetual mutagenic arms race between ourselves and lowly bacteria and viruses. There is very good evidence in fact that survivors of the black death in Europe a few centuries ago also have genetic resistences to viroids like HIV, for example.

Even if we get to the point of purely engineering our offspring, there WILL be limits, and those limits will be manifest both phsyically (how much we can manipulate the genome) and mentally (how intellectually capable we are of understanding what we are toying with).

If we do get into massive genetic manipulation, I think we should proceed cautiously. Genetic diversity is the best gaurantee of species survival when it comes to disease and other such maladies.

 Great conversation, and very interesting to me personally, as one of those people who carries a genetic mutation that was apparently useful to my ancestors as a protection from malaria, but has caused some significant health problems for my dad's generation, mine and my daughter's. Deludedgod provided some direction for me by pointing me to studies done in Sardinia, where b-Thalassemia is carried by something like 95% of the population.

While I haven't found exactly what I was looking for (evidence of a link between b-Thal and autoimmune disorders), the information in the studies gave me more data about Thalassemia than anything I'd ever found on my own. GAWD, I love you scientist-types!

Obviously, I'd do happy dances from here to the moon if one day the b-Thal trait can be manipulated out of my descendents, but I'm also far too cynical to expect that if creating such "designer genes" were possible, it wouldn't become one of those things that the rich can and would use to genetically enhance themselves and their offspring in order to keep their "edge" and stay at the top of the social order. Especially in America.

Clearly I'm biased, but I'm of the mind that if we CAN do it, we should... even if ultimately the technology can be employed in the service of vanity at a premium price. I don't really care whether Paris Hilton can make her future baby smarter or prettier than other kids, and might choose to do so, if that same technology might mean that my daughter can ensure that her future babies won't carry a genetic trait that causes health problems. Honestly, if I could have "bought" my daughter a fix for her broken gene long before she was born, you bet your ass I'd have found a way to pay for it and have it done. My guess is any parent would feel the same.

Sorry for the long-winded sidetrack.... I'm bored at work... but thanks again for sharing your knowledge, all of you! 

 

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theotherguy wrote:  Well,

theotherguy wrote:

 Well, like I said, the advantage is extremely tiny in modern society, but it does exist. More attractive people tend to be more promiscuous, find more mates, and most importantly, have sex earlier than less attractive people. Even if this means that attractive people have on average a very small fraction more babies than unnatractive people, their genes will be selected in the gene pool.

 And yes, I would say it would be nice to remove genetic defects from the outset if we can and its safe. Cosmetic genetic engineering would be a logical next-step, but that's getting into a fuzzy moral area. (For instance, richer people would tend to have smarter babies because they can afford genetic engineering, and good genes would be monopolized by the richest of people. This would be quite unfair for society as a whole, and might widen the income disparity gap).


I'd still like to see data on whether genes are being selected to support a prettier humanity. I'm also interested in what other enclaves of genetic traits have formed, as they supposedly have in Silicon Valley.
In my idealized notion of future genetic engineering projects, there will be regulations on place to assure that genetic alterations are corrective and necessary rather than cosmetic. I tend to think until the methods are mature, efforts will be limited to where inaction would be a worse prospect. Rather than being able to pay to have your "perfect" baby, you would have the chance to take corrective measures against mental retardation, or a predisposition to colon cancer.