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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
ACT II
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What are the challenges imposed by a consideration of society and genetics?

There is a complex interaction of the individual's genes and environment that results in a unique individual identity for that person.

Genetic determinism: Some would argue that the promise of the Human Genome Project, the eventual ability to obtain an individual’s complete genomic sequence, will permit us to know the individual’s future — a technologically based look at predestination. But we know that the expression of any individual’s genome is far more malleable than previously appreciated. The interaction of each individual’s environmental experience with her/his genome leads to that person’s identity. We observe this for identical twins: While they may share some characteristics, they and we recognize their independent qualities. An extension of these observations is to refute the concern that if human cloning should become possible and acceptable in the future, then the clones of an individual will be identical automatons. The clones, with different developmental environments and experiences, would be independent beings, similar to identical twins, and, since they would grow up in different environments, they would be more like identical twins reared apart.

Coevolution of society and genetics: This is a concept identified by Professor of History Norton Wise, the co-director of the center, to represent the mutual influences and adaptations between society and genetics. The issues to be considered are not simply the influences of genetics and the Human Genome Project on society, nor the effects of society on the science of genetics, but rather the two-way nature of these influences and coadaptations. We are, for example, learning that an individual’s early behavioral experiences can alter the expression patterns of genes throughout his or her lifetime. Inadequate nutrition to the developing fetus within the womb can, for instance, lead to increased risks for obesity, diabetes and heart disease in adulthood. This means that individuals with the inherited genetic makeup may have different disease risks based on their early environmental exposures. Therefore, there is a complex interaction of the individual’s genes and environment that results in a unique individual identity for that person.

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