Thursday 7 July 2016

'Gene - An Intimate History' by Indian American oncologist

NEW DELHI: The ethical and moral quandaries thrown up by the question of manipulation of the human genome -- of whether a man can truly transcend his genes -- are hotly debated, as are the unbridled prospects it tantalisingly offers.This knotty dilemma of whether human beings should remain bound to heredity or alter the course of future generations, interspersed with a personal family history of mental illness, is something Siddhartha Mukherjee attempts to tackle in his latest book 'The Gene- An Intimate History'.
Published by Penguin Random House the work, described as a 'prequel' to his 2010 Pulitzer winning work 'Emperor of Maladies', the Indian-born American oncologist describes the enormous advances in 21st century genetic manipulation that allow one to test for mutations or diseases and 'subtract' the same from our DNA: in other words, to wipe ourselves clean of disease. But what might be the unintended fallout of this kind of tampering? In this pursuit of wiping out illness, would we end up wiping out diversity and variance instead?"Choice in short," says the author, "is but an illusion devised by genes to propagate the selection of similar genes."
Then again, preimplantation genetic diagnosis -- a technique of identifying genetic defects within embryos -- never throws forth results in black and white. The chance of a child suffering from a given disease is never a 100 per cent, or a zero per cent.But outside of scouring for diseases, genetic engineering in embryos holds a rather sinister promise - it has the potential of altering and 'adding' genetic information, to make a newborn baby more 'perfect'- say to change the colour of its hair, or skin.In simpler words, the implications here are chilling - is this a hark back to the days of eugenics, the idea of the superior Aryan propagated in Nazi-era Germany.

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