Genes, Cells, and Brains: The Promethean Promises of the New Biology
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Our fates lie in our genes and not in the stars, said James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. But Watson could not have predicted the scale of the industry now dedicated to this new frontier. Since the launch of the multibillion-dollar Human Genome Project, the biosciences have promised miraculous cures and radical new ways of understanding who we are. But where is the new world we were promised?
Now updated with a new afterword, Genes, Cells and Brains asks why the promised cornucopia of health benefits has failed to emerge and reveals the questionable enterprise that has grown out of bioethics. The authors, feminist sociologist Hilary Rose and neuroscientist Steven Rose, examine the establishment of biobanks, the rivalries between public and private gene sequencers, and the rise of stem cell research. The human body is becoming a commodity, and the unfulfilled promises of the science behind this revolution suggest profound failings in genomics itself.
(ELSI). In the years that followed, the huge funds from ELSI were to influence the development of the humanities and the social sciences, much as the HGP was to influence the development of the life sciences. However, Watson’s reign lasted barely four years, when a very public disagreement with Bernardine Healy, the NIH director, and a conflict of interest over his wife’s shareholdings led to his resignation. His successor was Francis Collins, prominent both as a geneticist and as an openly
train’. But it was above all Charles Darwin who provided the intellectual and empirical bedrock for a materialist account of human origins and human nature. Although evolutionary ideas were far from uncommon, it was The Origin that, by providing an intellectually satisfying and coherent secular origin-story of life itself, was recognised as precipitating and symbolising a transformation in Western culture. While an outspoken minority, like his cousin Galton or disciple Huxley, embraced atheism,
Modern-day biologists substitute ideas of beauty with the claim that flamboyant male appendages signal ‘good genes’. Although sexual selection is regarded as one of the core features of evolutionary theory, and popular writing, especially from evolutionary psychologists, accepts it unquestioningly, attempts to demonstrate it empirically have not proved entirely successful. Furthermore, there is evidence that both sexes have other potential sexual strategies. For example, while massively antlered
which selection occurs: genic, epigenetic, behavioural, and, for humans, symbolic. Human behavioural epigenetics is becoming a hot new research field.25 Examples of epigenetic and behavioural selection abound in recent ethological research, from honey-bees and dung beetles to sticklebacks and snakes.26 For instance, if pregnant rabbits are fed on a diet containing strongly flavoured foods, and continue to eat it while nursing their young, the young in their turn will prefer the same flavours, and
provided the egg will have been anonymised. A complexity of identity which only increases as human embryology advances. The announcement of Louise Brown’s birth startled the world, even though, as the inaugural Kennedy Institute meeting had recognised eight years previously, the realistic possibility of a ‘test tube baby’ was central to the ethical and social agenda – especially to one funded by Catholics. This Catholic preoccupation was shared by those biologists aware of the developments in