Let’s Explore the World of Human Microbiomes

Human Microbiomes

The microbiome is a myriad community of microbes, classified genetically, living in and on the human body, whereas, ‘microbiota’ is a description of the organisms themselves. However, the terms were originally synonymous and are still sometimes used interchangeably. It is due to this genetic information that the microbiome is often referred to as ‘the second genome project’. Read More →

Developmental Brain Plasticity in Humans

brain plasticity

Human development and plastic have little in common, yet they are both malleable. Developmental plasticity in humans refers to the ability to adapt to information, environmental or physical changes. When you learn new things, compensate for physical problems or speak a foreign language fluently, you are relying on your brain’s innate plasticity, which is most apparent during childhood. Read More →

A Challenge to the Genetic Interpretation of Biology

DNA 2014

A proposal for reformulating the foundations of biology, based on the 2nd law of thermodynamics and which is in sharp contrast to the prevailing genetic view, is published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface under the title “Genes without prominence: a reappraisal of the foundations of biology” [citation below]. The authors, Arto Annila, Professor of physics at Helsinki University and Keith Baverstock, Docent and former professor at the University of Eastern Finland, assert that the prominent emphasis currently given to the gene in biology is based on a flawed interpretation of experimental genetics and should be replaced by more fundamental considerations of how the cell utilizes energy. There are far-reaching implications, both in research and for the current strategy in many countries to develop personalized medicine based on genome-wide sequencing. Read More →

The Hierarchical Structure of DNA

All life on Earth is based on building blocks, known as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which exists in the form of a double helix. DNA is a highly elaborate and modular molecule with different levels of hierarchical complexity. In this post, we Read More →

Humanism Versus the Machine Culture

Genetically modified crops have often been controversial. On one hand, they promise to feed an ever-growing population. On the other hand, many people see them as an example of the way that applied science is tampering with natural organisms. In the 1990s, protesters in the United Kingdom pulled genetically modified plant matter straight out of the ground.

As humanity faces major issues like starvation and climate change, these solutions appear necessary. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone will accept them with the same fervor. In fact, pundits might expect these types of protests to grow in number. As society becomes more artificial, reactionary humanism could grow in numbers.

Ironically enough, secular humanism ushered in rational thinking. Many of the scientific advances people take for granted today were created from a tradition of rational thought. However, the same forces that pushed to weaken certain ethical guidelines might very well stand up now that scientific discoveries are wreaking new havoc upon humanity.

Even humanists who don’t care to uphold traditions still feel that human beings should be put before anything else. That means that the same people who pushed for the advancement of engineering might stand in the way of the next level of human evolution. It will certainly be an interesting fight.

The Future of Genomic Medicine

Medicine has always focused on the treatment of diseases. Scientists have talked about changing this since the Human Genome Project began. Researchers have found that they may be able to predict whether or not a patient will develop a disease based on their genetic map although currently, this is a long way off.

Theoretically, doctors could predict and prevent various diseases before they occur in the future. Genetics are already used in regular medical science and the field of genomic medicine is growing at an unparalleled pace. Enthusiastic commentators have compared it to the development of antibiotics.

Nevertheless, controversy rears its ugly head at every turn. Genomic medicine opens an entire book of ethical quandaries. Technological singularities should cause the human race to come together. In theory, technology is causing the democratization of all areas of our lives.

However, genomic medicine could cause mass discrimination as well. Large groups have been discriminated against because of their political affiliation, race, gender or creed…so why not genetics as well? Discrimination is supposed to be a thing of the past however genomic medicine could cause people to be marginalized based on their genetics.

This is clearly a step backwards. As genomic medicine starts to treat diseases that don’t yet exist, doctors need to exercise caution and restraint in their work. It’s sometimes said that technology is morally neutral. However, what doctors do with technology can have serious moral implications in the years ahead as well.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Energy Human Genome Program