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Jahmel Jordon Writing & Rhetoric Research Paper Technology vs.

The Human Genome Today we enjoy the fruits of more than a thousand years of technological innovation. From the invention of fire, the invention of the light bulb, to the release of the newest iPhone we, as a species, have accomplished some of the most impressive feats ever seen in nature, second only to life itself. All of these innovations were a result of our capacity to understand our environment and ourselves. We have done so many things as a species that no other animal on Earth is capable of achieving. Most would argue that we have won as a species. They would argue that we are an example of what natural selection is trying to accomplish and that our innovations are a great thing. I agree with the fact that we have accomplished unimaginable feats and Im amazed by all of the things weve done. However, I believe that the technology that we know and love today may actually be harming us at an evolutionary level. This paper will attempt to give reasons why I feel this is true and illustrate how our technology may have a negative effect on our species over time. Earth, the planet that we call home, the only known planet that has life, was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago through the process of accretion. For about a billion years after formation life was not possible on Earth due to violent atmospheric, terrestrial, and solar conditions, not to mention a lack of water. After the Earth cooled down and water was present on the surface of the planet natural processes caused the formation of the atmosphere that shields us from the suns

radiation. Once these conditions were established all of the necessary pieces were present and for the first time life was possible on Earth. The first forms of life were simple single cellular organisms called prokaryotes. Scientific evidence shows that these prokaryotes evolved as early as 3.6 billion years ago. Although very simple these organisms evolved all of the essential biological mechanisms that were the premise for complex multi-cellular organisms called eukaryotes. All of the various forms of life experienced today descended from a common ancestor appropriately called the Last Universal Ancestor (LUA). The LUA was a single celled prokaryote that eventually, by means of evolution, branched off into all of the genera on Earth until eventually leading to our family (taxonomic) Hominidae which includes all of the Great Apes (humans, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and chimpanzees). Within our family is our tribe (taxonomic) Hominini which contains the genera Homo (relatives of the human species) and Australopithecus (closest relatives to both humans and chimps). Within our genus Homo which consisted of Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo neanderthalensis, etc. only one species is left. Homo sapiens is the only species within our genus that has survived the test of time. Over millions of years all other species within the Homo genus were wiped out by some mechanism. So what mechanism chooses one form of life over another form of life? The simple answer to that question is evolution. But the main mechanism by which evolution selects certain forms of life over another, along with other less important mechanisms, is natural selection. Natural selection is defined as the gradual process by which biological traits become either more or less common. This process works by external pressures affecting the rate at which certain species can

reproduce and pass on its genetic traits. These external pressures can be environmental pressures such as climate changes, predators, or competition for food or mates. Whichever species possesses the traits that give it an advantage over other species will tend to survive and reproduce at a higher rate than the other species. This allows for the favorable traits to proliferate throughout succeeding generations. Although natural selection has no end goal its purpose in evolution is to strengthen the genomes of all species. Natural selection is occurs continuously throughout nature. At this very moment several species are evolving, at the same time many species are going extinct. Our species Homo sapiens was selected by evolution because we exhibited traits that gave us huge advantages over our close relatives. Humans were able to walk upright, craft and use tools, build social networks, and communicate with one another. These are all huge evolutionary advantages because they not only made each human as an individual capable of solving problems but they also made Homo sapiens as a species able to solve complicated problems together. This is due to the fact that humans have one of the most complex brains observed in nature. Our brains have allowed us to think critically and solve problems that no other species on Earth is capable of solving. This has been a saving grace for the human race because it has allowed us to outthink other alpha predators that would have otherwise eaten us for sure. We have been able to manipulate our environment so well in fact that we as a species have inadvertently shifted the natural course of Earths history. It is an irrefutable claim that our proliferation has changed the way that nature would have operated had we

not evolved into the beings that we are. Natural selection (whether a mistake or not is another argument for another paper) eventually led to Homo sapiens becoming a species completely able to bypass the same selective pressures which caused our selection in the first place. Humans have successfully altered our environments and are slowly gaining the capacity to alter ourselves to the point that natural pressures from the environment and genetics are affecting us less and less. But a question then arises. If we are able to out-think the natural evolutionary pressures, which are supposed to be selecting for stronger biological traits, are we then weakening our genome by allowing weaker traits to continue on? I believe that if we continue on the path that we are currently on we will, as a species, become weaker from a genetic standpoint. The Earths current population of humans is approximately 7.1 billion but it was not always this way. In the 14th century the worlds population was estimated at around 350-375 million. Our population has been skyrocketing since the 18th century. The reasons why our population was so low in the 14th century and our population is so high now are closely related. In the 14th century the Black Death, caused by the Yersina pestis bacterium, killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people. This was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history and is estimated to have killed 30-60% of all of Europes total population. In the 14th century the worlds population would have decreased form an estimated 815 million to around 350-375 million. This was one of the most devastating natural losses of human life on Earth. In contrast to the Black Death the worlds population has experienced continuous growth since the end of the Great Famine and the Black Death at an

estimated average of around 1.2% per year. This is because by the 18th century with the introduction of the first vaccine for smallpox, and then subsequent vaccines for other diseases that were developed, dramatically reduced the percent of people who would have died from those diseases. Interestingly our ability to combat these diseases, regardless of however many human lives that they saved in the process, have actually interfered with the process of natural selection in a manner that is not beneficial but harmful to Homo sapiens as a species. Genetically speaking, smallpox, cholera, influenza, and a host of other infectious diseases exist to act as environmental pressures to naturally select individuals who display immunity or resistance to these diseases. With the development of vaccines we are allowing individuals who were meant to die from these diseases to live. This allows the genes of these individuals to continue on in their offspring. This continuation of those genomes has a negative effect on the species as a whole. Infectious diseases are examples of natural selection occurring through external mechanisms. But external pressures arent the only way that natural selection occurs. Actually, most of the pressures that select for strong traits occur from within an individual. This is because most of the internal pressures arise directly from an individuals genome. These factors can be either inherited or occur from spontaneous mutations during development of during an individuals lifetime. No matter the means of acquiring these mutations they are either fatal or severely crippling to the individual in question. A great example of this phenomenon can be described through congenital heart defects. The entire process of creating a human being, from the fusion of two gametes to the birth of the individual, is coded in that

persons genome. That persons DNA tells the developing cells what to do and exactly when to do it. Nature has a great way of regulating these processes and has several checkpoints throughout development that ensure that a fetus is developing properly. If there is a mistake during development, in this case a congenital heart defect, the mothers body can detect this and the pregnancy is spontaneously aborted (miscarriage). This process, although very sad, complete erases the possibility of a baby being born with defects. Sometimes however, if the regulation is flawed or the defect isnt one that is fatal to the fetus the fetus will come to term and be born with a heart defect. In the past if a person were born with a congenital heart defect they would have either died at birth or at an early age. If the person were lucky they would survive but would live a severely crippled life. Medicine was not advanced enough at the time to fix this ailment. Without proper treatment the individual most likely would not survive. Even if they did survive the chance that they lived long enough to reproduce was extremely slim. This is because from an evolutionary point of view this individuals genome is flawed and would, if given the chance to reproduce, subsequently weaken the genome of the individuals offspring. Even if the individuals offspring isnt born with a defect the defect is still embedded in the offsprings DNA. Nature doesnt want this to happen because once this individual is able to reproduce this persons genome would be allowed to be passed on and amplified within the population. This is what is effectively happening with the development of better medicine and more advanced technology. Once openheart surgery became a reality, Instead of a newborn baby dying from a heart defect its heart could be operated on and it would have a much higher chance of surviving

than if not for the operation. This baby would live a close to normal life and have the chance to reproduce. Although a huge success for science and medicine, from a genetic standpoint, the perpetuation of this individuals genome has a negative effect on the genome of the species as a whole. Another example of this phenomenon is our use of medicine for the treatment of mental disease. Schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD, Bipolar disorder, and autism are all mental illnesses that result from changes in brain function and brain chemistry. The signs and symptoms of the diseases vary drastically. The biological roots of the diseases all lead back to the genome of the affected individuals. It has already been shown through scientific study and research that most of these rare diseases are indeed heritable and run within families. In medieval times these individuals would have been either outcastes labeled as mad or put to death for suspected demonic possession. More recently these individuals would have been secluded in mental institutions. Either way these individuals would have a much less chance of passing on their genes to offspring. This is nature selecting against their genes. However with the advent of the prescription drugs we can allow affected individuals to manage their symptoms and live more normal lives. Our means of regulating symptoms of mental illness is yet another example of the perpetuation of bad genes due to medical and technological advances. Another question then arises. If the technology that we have already developed is playing a negative role in our evolution how will we be affected by technology that is still in development? In the future diseases that, until recently, were thought incurable could be fixed. Defects present at birth of the eyes or the

nervous system could be fixed. This seems like something that is far in the future however these technologies are already in development and several breakthroughs have been made recently. Scientists have already created an implantable microchip that replicates the way that the eye processes light and sends messages to the brain. This procedure has already allowed two patients to regain primitive sight. With a bit of refinement the use of these microchips could become common practice in the future. Individuals who were blind due to defects present in their genomes would have their sight restored. Then when allowed to reproduce the flaws in their DNA will perpetuate through their offspring. The future will allow for more and more impressive feats that will help the affected individuals but will have a negative effect on the entire human genome. Another technology that is currently in development is a method to treat a disease called Leighs syndrome. This is a defect in a childs mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) due to a defect in their mothers mtDNA. It is estimated that 1 in 200 women have such defects. Whats truly sad is that these defects in mtDNA are fatal to the child. Lori Martin, a woman that is a carrier of Leighs Syndrome and whose son is affected says, "The experience of being told that your son is basically going to die and you don't know when or how, but it's obviously life-changing, and it completely wrecks your world". Scientist have already found a solution to this problem which involves taking an unfertilized egg from a non-affected woman, removing her nucleus but keeping her healthy mtDNA inside the egg. Then the affected womans nucleus can then be added to the egg and then fertilized to form a fetus that wouldnt be affected by Leighs syndrome. This raises a huge ethical debate because

first and foremost the child would have three parents and scientists have no way of knowing the potential health risks that may occur later on in life. Even worse is the fact that the addition of this genome to the current human genome would irreversibly alter the human genome and no one can possibly predict possible implications of this change. It could have negative effects such as make us more susceptible to cancer or completely alter the way that we reproduce. But it could potentially lead to benefits such as increased health or resistance to infectious disease. No one knows. There would be an entire group of scientists who would make the opposite argument. They would applaud the achievements of mankind. They would argue that the constant advancements in technology are a great thing for humanity. Our ability to help those that are suffering from the maladies mentioned above should not be viewed in such a negative fashion. Rather they should be viewed as a testament to how far our species has come and serve as inspiration for even more technological advancements. Throughout this paper I have looked at the importance of natural selection and its role in the process of evolution. I have discussed certain events in human history and have attempted to illustrate how they have benefitted the human race. Although I shine a positive light on things that are definitely harmful to the affected individuals I do want to make it clear that the angle that Im taking is from a genetic standpoint. I do believe that from an ethical perspective, since we have the capacity to cure disease, then by all means we should. It would truly be unethical to refrain from helping a sick individual when we have the option to. I just believe that we

should also consider the risks of the things we are doing, especially things that do directly play a role in the evolution of our genome. It is unwise to ignore something that has such heavy implications for our entire race. Millions of years of evolution have led to where we are now. Throughout that time our genome was strengthened by events that selected for only the most fit genes. For the last 200 years however we have been completely going against the natural progression of selection and its still too early to know how this will affect us. Hopefully our fate isnt similar to the other species in our genus. We will just have to wait and see.