Thesis: How Does Genes Affect the Way We Look and Act?

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Genes

The last two decades have brought an amazing amount of gene research to the forefront of the scientific world. The possibilities presented by such research are complex, yet exciting to ponder. Scientists can now manipulate genes in manners previously unthinkable, yet with the discovery of DNA and how genes affect humans, animals, and the world in which they interact comes a very large degree of responsibility. While genes can be used as forecasters of future pathways, it is also true that man can manipulate the genes, bringing changes to those future events as well as to how each human looks and grows. Such manipulations can have direct and dire effects on individuals, and on the local and worldwide communities in which we live.

For instance, it is now a well-known fact that "Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is a common complex phenotype that by the year 2010 is predicted to affect 221 million people globally" (Aberg, Sun, Smelser, Indugula, Tsai, Steele, Tuitele, Deka, McGarvey, Weeks, 2008, pg. 100). It is also known that 'the disease results from a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors and is strongly associated with obesity and modernized lifestyle" (Aberg, et al.) By determining the individuals who carry that specific gene, certain lifestyle changes can be made and therefore the manipulation of that particular gene could have positive effects on the lives of millions of those individuals. Yet according to the Aberg study, the same gene that predicates diabetes mellitus has other affects as well.

Their study "suggests that the 9q31 region may be a strong quantitative trait locus for adult height, which is likely to be of importance across populations" (Aberg, et al., pg. 101). What that statement suggests is that manipulation of the gene to prevent diabetes mellitus might also lead to a person either being extraordinarily tall or vice versa.

Not only do genes determine whether a person has blue eyes or brown but genes can be diagnosed to contributing to a variety of diseases and conditions as well. One recent study states; "genetic studies of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) generally use discrete DSM-IV subtypes to define diagnostic status" (Acosta, Castellanos, Bolton, Balog, Eagen, Nee, Jones, Palacio, Sarampote, Russell, Berg, Arcos-Burgos, Muenke, 2008, pg. 797). Does that mean that only those individuals with the DSM-VI subtype will become ADHD, or are there other factors as well? There are numerous studies that document the effects of certain genes but many of those studies also document other contributing factors as well. One study found that "evidence of a significant genetic component to the age-related degenerative joint disease osteoarthritis has been established" (Duren, Sherwood, Czerwinski, Chumlea, Lee, Demerath, Sun, Siervogel, Townf, 2008, pg. 2) yet the same study also concludes that "the nature of genetic influences on normal joint morphology in healthy individuals remains unclear" (Duren, et al., pg. 2).

Now that such gene discoveries are taking place in a regular fashion, it would seem that care must be taken.

Especially careful should be all those involved in determining what genes should or should not be manipulated or changed in any way, especially if results from such manipulations may result in ways that 'remain unclear'. Additionally, information was at one time only found in the scientific laboratory can now be had by almost any individual for as low as a thousand dollars. One recent article espoused the fact that "for as little as $1,000 and a saliva sample, customers will be able to learn what is known so far about how the billions of bits in their biological code shape who they are" (Harmon, 2008, pg. 74). The reporter also wrote that several companies have already announced plans to market such services.

Harmon agreed to have her DNA categorized and what she found was that she become 'genome addicted' (checking her DNA on almost a daily basis). She wrote "I had spent hours every day doing just that as new studies linking bits of DNA to diseases and aspects of appearance, temperament, and behavior came out...At times, surfing my genome induced the same shock of recognition that comes when accidentally catching a glimpse of oneself in the mirror" (Harmon, pg. 75).

This type of knowledge at a person's fingertips can lead to some complex and intriguing situations, some positive and some negative. For instance, if an individual discovered that the person to whom he/she was engaged carried a gene that could cause Down's Syndrome, would that be enough to back out of the commitment?

Harmon brought up other questions such as what would happen if "I might have passed on a rogue gene to my daughter? (or) What if I learned I was likely to die young?" (Harmon, pg. 75). Knowledge of her DNA (or anyone's for that matter) in the wrong hands could also have dire effects. An employer or insurance company could use a person's genetic background as a reason to deny insurance or employment, with detrimental results for the individual.

One recent report concluded that "Consumer groups fear that the use of genetic testing information in insurance underwriting might lead to the creation of an underclass of individuals who cannot obtain insurance; thus, these groups want to ban insurance companies from accessing genetic test results" (Viswanathan, Lemaire, Withers, Armstrong, Baumritter, Hershey, Pauly, Asch, 2007, pg. 66). Of course, the insurance company protests that without such testing they face the risk of going broke by insuring individuals who may be genetically disposed to early death(s).

Harmon was more interested in discovering that the reason she did not like to drink milk when she was a child was due to "my DNA is devoid of the mutation that eases the digestion of milk after infancy, which became common in Europeans after the domestication of cows" (Harmon, pg. 76).

She also discovered that she lacks the predisposition for good verbal memory (ironically enough she is a reporter) and that she was genetically disposed to tasting a compound that makes many vegetables taste bitter, and therefore she does not like Brussell sprouts.

The scientific community now knows that there is a gene that most people have that hides the taste of that compound. The significance of these discoveries (at least according to Harmon) is that her life is not preprogrammed, but her likes and dislikes, the way she looks as well as how she acts and feels are affected to a much larger degree than what she used to think was possible.

For instance, if instead of being a journalist, Harmon grew up to be a dancer, her body might have to adapt to a lot of wear and tear not facing her as she writes her articles. Dancers are oftentimes beset with aches and pains throughout their respective careers and a large percentage of them face hip surgery as they near their 50's, due in part to contracting arthritis of the hips.

A specialist recently wrote "Even with all the wear and tear that dancers endure, genetics still play the biggest role in determining whether you are at high risk for arthritis" (Rasminsky, 2007, pg 110). If the gene that determines arthritic bones could be manipulated then Harmon could achieve her lifelong dream of being a dancer. Rasminsky writes, "genes -- not career choice-are still the strongest determinant of hip arthritis" (pg. 110).

It used to be that geneticists would typically pursue one gene at a time in order to determine what aspect of the human being that gene affected. The geneticists were usually "armed only with guesses - usually wrong - about which chunks of genetic code might be linked to human disease" (Nuzzo, 2008, pg. 20). That the geneticists were successful in their efforts to even a small degree is a tribute to their perseverance.

However, most of their success was primarily in the area of rare diseases caused by a problem in a single gene. Nuzzo contends that "unfortunately, most of the more common diseases, such as Type 2 Diabetes, are instead controlled by a whole crowd of gene variants, each playing a small and often subtle role in the path to disease" (2008, pg. 21). If that is true, then making changes to certain genes may not bring forth the fruit for which it is planted. We know for instance that a dolphin's DNA is more closely related to a human than it is to a tuna, yet does that mean we have evolved from the same monkey parents? The questions seem to be much more numerous in regards to gene research than there are answers.

The potential do accomplish good through gene manipulation is as high as the potential to create evil. What is for certain is that geneticists now have the knowledge and capability to create offspring that can be devoid of certain genes that lead to behavior(s) or look(s) that some would deem unacceptable. These same geneticists can also manipulate genes to bring about acceptable changes to individuals seeking these 'improvements'. These manipulations lead many in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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How Does Genes Affect the Way We Look and Act?.  (2008, November 20).  Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/genes-affect-way-look-act/49084

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"How Does Genes Affect the Way We Look and Act?."  Essaytown.com.  November 20, 2008.  Accessed July 15, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/genes-affect-way-look-act/49084.