Term Paper: Nature Verses Nurture One of the Arguments

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Nature Verses Nurture

One of the arguments that have now been raised by the discovery of genes is the question whether our behavior in future life is determined by the genes that we are born with, or the way that we are brought up with. This can be summed up as "Nature vs. Nurture" which is also the title of a book by Matt Ridley - "Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience and What Makes Us Human." (We've never had it so good - and it's all thanks to science)

We all start as humans and even our shape as humans have changed over the last 5000 years as evidenced by findings of old civilizations, then how can one assume that the shape or genes are constant and uniform in all human beings and will finally determine what man will be like? It is the changing nature of man that keeps us interested in men.


The objective of finding out the nature of humans has been an effort of humans for many years, and one of the oldest examples is astrology which still survives, and there are many who are willing to spend useful money in wearing different types of jewels or build their houses in peculiar ways to avoid the harm that comes to them from nature. This naturally gives an opportunity to humans also to profit from this weakness, and one of the ways is writing on the subject. Matt Ridley wrote an article on the subject "What makes you who are" in Time Magazine in the issue of June 2, 2003 and one of the first lines was "It flared up again in the London Observer of Feb. 11, 2001; Revealed: the secret of human behavior." (What Makes You Who You Are) According to Time, the source was Craig Venter, the self-made millionaire from genes. (What Makes You Who You Are)

Then genes were a big story. In June 2000, President Clinton had organized a press conference to mark one of the most important milestones of the century and that was the cracking of the human genetic code. Two of the men most responsible for the two competing genetic projects were there - Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and J. Craig Venter, president of Celera Genomics. They were also individuals involved in finding out the 3 billion 'letters' of the human genome, or the biochemical recipe encoded in our DNA that were the reasons for birth and operating a human being. (Gene Mapper)

According to Victor McKusick, the research scientist at John Hopkins, who is considered the grandfather of human genetics, Venter had a great contribution in the exercise. He had started off a technique called shotgunning to sequence the complete genome of a living organism - the H. Influenza bacterium at the urging of Nobel Prize winner Hamilton Smith. This bug causes ear and respiratory infections in human beings. The method they used was to shred the DNA of the bug, then sequence each one of the millions of small fragments and then reassemble the parts in the correct sequence. There was a lot of criticism of the project and it did not get federal funding. Yet the organization of Venter managed the details of the first bacterial genome within one year and this was the first living organism to be completely sequenced. (Gene Mapper)

This put Venter on the path to sequencing the human genome and the target date set for it was set for 2001 and he announced this in 1998. At that time he had a more powerful set of gene-sequencing machines and the new company called Celera Genomics. The date set by Venter was a few years before the date fixed by the official Human Genome Project. The importance of human genomes we are able to find out which genes are active in people with cancer, heart disease and many other illnesses. This has enabled scientists to devise powerful and narrowly targeted drugs that are suited to an individual and not cause other problems due to the drugs. The most interesting aspect is that human genes are not the 100,000 to 140,000 that was estimated earlier, and till even as late as 1999. According to Celera geneticist Mani Subramanian the number of human genes turned out to be more in the range of 30,000 to 35,000, and this is felt to be very low by many scientists. According to the scientists who discovered the genes, the number of genes in humans is the same as in plants. Yet the genome carries very detailed history of our evolution and even has the trace of viruses that had got into our DNA and thus become a part of development of human beings. (Gene Mapper) This is the history of scientific development of genes, and while it talks about the development of the human race, it does not have much to talk about the role of genes on development of individual humans.

The use of genes has been till now to find out the reasons for different diseases or their prevalence among different groups of people. One of the areas, that it was used was for determining the origin of Aids. The theory originated that the origin of Aids is from polio vaccines that were tested in Africa during the end of 1950s. The general theory is that these vaccines had been made with tissues from Chimpanzee kidneys and as a result some infection from the chimpanzee tissue may have been carried over as the chimpanzee tissue was infected with the precursor of the virus for HIV. This suspicion existed as the first known cases of HIV infection and polio vaccination trials have both taken place in Leopoldville, Burundi and some other parts of the Congo at about the same time, meaning during 1959. This has given rise to a lot of speculation, but there is no conclusive proof. (Did the march of progress bring Aids to Africa?)

It is only the possibility of testing genes that has brought about this set of arguments. It is also seen in another case in a common gene mutation that gives certain people susceptibility to deep vein thrombosis, and at the same time makes them more fertile. This has been a discovery by German scientists. The reference is from Australia and according to scientific reports one in ten Australians of Anglo-Saxon background carry a genetic mutation which has been named as the factor-V-Leiden or FVL. This increases the risk of blood clots among the carriers of the genes, and also has certain effects on their ability to bear children. It also brings about an increase in the risk of second trimester miscarriage and premature of their children. On the other hand, the same gene also provides the carriers with a lining in their wombs that makes it double as likely that fertilized eggs will be implanted in their wombs. (The good side of a bad gene)

The observations here, it may be noted are in statistical terms and that means one can talk about the likelihood increasing, or decreasing due to the presence or absence of the gene. It does not say that anything will happen certainly or definitely. Another gene called macrophage scavenger receptor 1 is one of the main genes playing a significant role in developing prostrate cancer in American black men. The study was on black American men between the ages of 40 and 79 in Flint, Michigan. The samples were taken from 134 individuals who were known to have the disease and 340 men who did not have the disease. Then the DNA samples were analyzed and the conclusions of the research scientists said that mutations of the rare macrophage scavenger receptor 1 are associated with chances of getting prostrate cancer. (Bad Gene Ups Prostate Cancer Risk in Black Men) The point to note is that in all the cases of genes and diseases, there are no definite statements saying that any particular gene leads to a disease - but it only talks about possibilities of the disease increasing due to a gene. In scientific studies what one group of scientists say is likely only opens the room for another group to come forward and refute their arguments. (We've never had it so good - and it's all thanks to science)

The relationship between genes and diseases comes only when society starts believing that a particular behavior is due to a disease. Examples of this are in the cases of dyslexia and autism. About 50 years ago, the reasons for the behavior due to the diseases was felt to be due to bad nurturing, but now are known to be a genetic dissimilarity with others. This has led humans into research to find out how the behavior can be corrected so that they can meet the norms of society. Similar was the case with genetic fingerprinting and initially people were worried about it being used to convict innocent humans,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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