The Human Genome

Today’s sci-fi cinema are avant-garde. Those scientific films could be considered social commentaries about what the not-so-far future will become, before the human population becomes fully aware of the possibilities, what is hovering over the subconscious mind is that the future is an unknown and a frightening place. Even science fiction literature from the likes of Mary Shelly, Robert Heinlien, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, and Ayn Rand, poses moralistic and ethical questions about our “post-modern” technological realism.

Human Genome
The United States House of Congress passed the Anti-Genetic Discrimination law in 2008 that will replace the American with Disabilities Act. Obama administration passed the HIPAA medical records privacy act in 2009. The Brownback/Weldon’s legislation ban on therapeutic human cloning revised in the US Senate on 4/01/2009 has not passed. [Image Source: Scientific American]

The technology already exists.

The breaking of the genetic code happened in 1961 by the Geneticists Marshal Nirenberg and Heinrich Matthaei by decoding the relationship of mRNA to amino acids. The unimaginable happened with the last coding of the human genome published in 2003 by Genome. Of course, recent breakthroughs in genetic sequencing were never possible without the help from discoveries made by Oswald Avery and his colleagues that suggested DNA was responsible for transferring of genetic material in 1944.

It was in 1948 that the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Wilhelm Kaurin Tiselius prophetically asserted, “the knowledge of the genetic code could lead to methods of tampering with life, creating new diseases, controlling minds, influencing heredity in certain desired directions.” Over the past decade, current events stirred up controversies surrounding the Human Genome Project on embryonic stem cells, human cloning, In-vitro fertilization, test-tube babies, and creating environments where the genetic research already takes place.

Gattaca Quote

Human beings are motivated by endless pursuit for self-knowledge.

Sir Francis Bacon said, “knowledge itself is power.” In the Book of Genesis, the Tree of Knowledge (good and evil) was in the middle of the Garden of Eden from which God directly forbade Adam to eat (Genesis 2:17). Eve, after being tempted by Satan, and Adam, thus being tempted ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Since the fall of Adam from the Garden of Eden, man merely attempts to become like their Creator.

Centuries later, the Romans and Greeks credited the mythology of Prometheus, who challenged Zeus by stealing from Mount Olympus the sacred fire as a source of divine wisdom and inspiration having fashioned human beings. This endless thirst for knowledge and ‘understanding of our creation’ (intelligent design) is buried deep within our subconscious mind. Our thought comes into existence. What we’ve imagined becomes reality. René Descartes once said, “I think, therefore I am.” Whom is man to play God? Whom is man to play with the sacred fire, the act of creation itself that birthed man and the universe into existence? There are unforeseen consequences in striving for perfection. The natural history of humanity progress stems from our holistic environment, and there-in lies evolution of humanity.

“I think that’s always a risk in science that we seek improvement and to make our lives better in some way, but that’s not always what we get. It might be years, and many unplanned mutations, before we realize what damage we did in the name of science.”

– Name withheld

Human cloning is not necessarily a moral issue, but it is an ethical issue based on the practice of regulation and oversight, or lack thereof. Morality is based on religious beliefs and values. Ethical principles are based on how we conduct our behavior. If humanity wants to reproduce to bear children, build a Noah’s Ark to save endangered species from global disaster, collapse, or extinction, and harvest organs through embryonic stem cells, so be it. According to Human Genome, there are two types of techniques used for cloning: somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning a human being to create a genetic copy through IVF —in vitro fertilization) and embryonic stem cells (extracted in research to treat a variety of diseases).

There are ethical implications of using cloned human beings for organ harvesting as alluded to in the film The Island that is basically in no way ethically or morally different from the black markets collecting organs from human bodies, dead or alive. There are exceptions to the given rule, whether it is for the survival of one person from a chronic illness or reproduction for preventing the extinction of the human race.

“A 2010 study showed that about 18 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant. And, “that is 6,570 people” every year.  If we had the ability to clone organs, how many of those people would live? And, if we had the ability to clone organs to be better genetic matches to the recipients, how many people would live longer with transplanted organs because the risk of rejection would be smaller? Even if we could only save half of these people, aren’t 3,285 lives worth it?”

– Name withheld

“Cloning organs for future transplantation is still far from a reality – but the thought of the lives that could be saved makes this an important process to discuss now – because it is thought that this technology will definitely become a reality.”

  – Name withheld

The future is here, the future is now.

Proverbs (30:15:16) – “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say enough: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says enough.”

Genetic cloning is 60 years in existence through scientific research and mapping of the genetic code well underway for over a century since the eugenics movement from the late 18th Century. Nadya Denise Doud-Suleman, the Octomom from IVF treatments, is not worth discussing… But, Dr. Harry Griffin who first cloned Dolly the sheep once said, “I think it is entirely unacceptable for groups like Clonad gambling with the health of children.” He was referring to a girl named Eve, the exact genetic copy of her 31 year old mother. This woman lived outside the United States when she used her wealth to bioengineer the first “test-tube baby”—a reproduced genetic copy of herself through cloning. In the not-so-far future, it might just become another accepted means of reproduction shaped by nurture to have his/her own identity.

“At some point I believe society will come to feel about cloning (as a way to have children) the same way we now feel about IVF.”

– Name withheld

Human beings are one-step closer to reenacting the creation of life. One thing is for certain is man ability to evolve into higher level of intelligence and physical ability. Alphonse de Candolle who published works on the effect of social factors of scientific studies concluded, “intellectual ability is heritable and that an individual with high inherited ability could progress when nurtured by societal forces.” The hereditary biologist Sir Francis Galton written a letter to M. de Cadolle titled “English Man of Science: Their Nature and Nurture” defines the distinctions between the overly debated “nature and nurture” argument. He said, “Nature is all that a man brings into the world and nurture is every influence from without that affects him after his birth….”

Gattaca Quote

In the not-so-far future, genetics not race is the greatest determinant for discrimination.

The United States House of Congress passed the Anti-Genetic Discrimination law in 2008 that will replace the American with Disabilities Act. Obama administration passed the HIPAA medical records privacy act in 2009. The Brownback/Weldon’s legislation ban on therapeutic human cloning revised in the US Senate on 4/01/2009 has not passed. A decade earlier in 1997, the film Gattaca, a social commentary on genoism poses questions about genetic discrimination. For example, should a man be judged against for having a genetic disability or in favor for his potential to achieve his dream?

“For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.” – Gattaca

Now is the Time for Bold and Unprecedented Action

The Paris Climate Change Accord and Leonardo DiCaprio UN Speech

On November 30th the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference was held in Paris, France. Countries from all around the world pledged $50 billion in research & development for clean energy. Technology companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, combined, and Bill Gates Microsoft Foundation pledged $150 billion to support climate change projects and innovation. A minimum of $100 billion provision was pledge to developing countries to mitigate the risks of climate change. The Oil companies pledged their support for the Paris Climate deal and investing towards a clean energy infrastructure for the future generation living in a 2°C degree world. However, the Paris Climate agreement was not ambitious enough.

The World Bank President Jim Yong Kim says, “the world our children inherit is a completely different world then the world we are living in today.” Financial institutions including Bank of America and HSBC made commitments. Their cooperation led by a coalition of investors is unprecedented when the world is facing global risks from climate change in an era of climate change denial.

Prior to this landmark accord in Paris, there was an unprecedented number of world leaders that attended the September 2014 Climate Summit at the UN. The summit included 100 heads of state and government, joined by 800 leaders from business, finance, and civil society. It included the actor Leonardo DiCaprio that gave an impassioned speech about the Climate, sayingclimate change is not hysteria — it’s a fact. The award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio described climate change as a “disaster” that has grown beyond the choices individuals make to one “that needs decisive large-scale action by industries and governments around the world.

At the 2014 Climate Summit, governments, business, and civil society long-term convergence agreed to define climate change as the most important issue facing our time and that bold action is needed today to reduce emissions and build resilience. Those leaders in both business and government would lead this effort. They announced their intent to mobilize $200 billion for financing low-carbon and climate-resilient development. New Coalitions agreed to mobilize sufficient public and private funds for low-carbon climate resilient growth essential to keep the world within less than 2° degree Celsius pathway.

Driven largely by economic and population growth, human influence on the climate system is clear. Recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history warming the atmosphere and the ocean. Since the mid 19th Century, the sea level has risen at a much larger rate than during the previous two millennia, and oceanic uptake of CO2 has resulted in acidification of the ocean. As a result, the ocean is warming and the never seen before sea life, deep water sea creatures, are washing up on the shores of continents.

Since the 1950s many people observed that the warming of the climate in unprecedented decades caused irreversible impacts on human and natural systems. There might be this attitude that the damage is irreversible and nothing can be done about it BUT something could be done to mitigate the worst consequential effects of climate change risks.

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions increased since the pre-industrial era. This led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in past 800,000 years. Their effects together with anthropogenic drivers detected through the climate system are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th Century. It is very likely the earth will continue to warm and sea level will continue to rise over the next Century.

Limiting climate change risks would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions along with adaptation to mitigate the global risks. The global risks are at a greater disadvantage for people and communities in developing countries at all development levels. Climate change is projected to increase the displacement of people. Populations that lack the resources for planned migration experience and higher exposure to extreme weather events, particularly in developing countries with low-income, may experience increasing violent conflicts over natural resources.

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change released in 2007 revealed there will be a decrease in water availability due to climate change, disappearing coral reefs, negative impact of subsistence farmers and fishers, coastal flooding from rising sea levels, and increased morbidity and mortality rates (due to heat waves, floods, droughts, and change in the distribution of disease). The report recommended adaptation measures to reduce the adverse impacts of projected climate change. Key vulnerabilities may be associated with the climate system, including food supply, infrastructure, health, water resources, coastlines, ecosystem, earth cycles (cooling and warming), and oceanic and atmospheric circulation. The impacts of climate change are very likely to impose net annual costs worth billions of dollars per year in environmental damages.

  • Fact 1) Warming of the climate since the 1950s is unprecedented. The atmosphere and ocean are warming. The amount of snow and ice has diminished. Sea levels are rising. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have ever been before, not necessarily due to population growth (that has remained relatively the same) but due to the growth in economic activity. Human influence on the climate system is clear. We need substantial reduction in greenhouse gases.
  • Fact 2) Climate change impacts have occurred across the world affecting ecosystems, human health, freshwater resources, and agriculture. The impacts tell us there are significant lack of adaptation and mitigation of risks associated with climate change. Those people marginalized by society due to inequality are the most vulnerable to climate change risks and lack access to resources and stake in decision-making processes.

Inaction is a greater economic cost than taking necessary action against the existential threat of Climate Change. We need scaling of renewables and sustainable technology by institutions in cooperation across all sectors of the global economy to mitigate the risks of Climate Change. It comes down to a matter of choice. We either continue on the path that we are on and face catastrophic consequences OR we listen to the voice of reason and act accordingly.

The actor Leonardo DiCaprio once again gave his impassioned speech during his well-deserved 2016 Oscar win as a constant reminder thatnow is the time for bold and unprecedented action.”

“We need to put a price tag on carbon emissions and eliminate government subsidies for oil, coal, and gas companies. We need to end the free ride that industrial polluters have been given in the name of a free market economy. They do not deserve our tax dollars. They deserve our scrutiny for the economy itself will die if our ecosystem collapse. The good news is that renewable energy is not only achievable but good economic policy.”