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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