Montag, 3. Mai 2010

push it, but mind the gap

We were all equal in the primordial soup. We were one, free for all. Then the giraffe went and stretched his neck.

Epigenetics puts a new spin on the old mother's tale of not making faces lest they stay that way. It's the science of destiny, the new theory of evolution. Printed on to our DNA like a texture map, epigenomes take information directly from the environment. There's no feedback loop, no eons of waiting for opposable thumbs to twiddle. This isn't Nature selecting from above, it's the mind selecting from within... to a degree.

Lifestyle and habits as defined by the environment we live in have a direct consequence on our genetic -or epigenetic- material. The decisions we make or are forced to make pass on to our offspring. If you smoke in puberty your child will die younger, if you keep fit your child will be healthier. The fundemental change in understanding comes from the realisation that our lifestyle makes small 'software' changes to our biological make-up, and that these get passed on, along with the hardware.

To a degree this is common sense, to a degree this is scientific complication of what we must all know. 'Horizontal evolution', the fire that stokes these mysterious epigenes, is surely just a byword for communication. But maybe we have been unaware of the degree to which this is significant. The impossible only becomes impossible when it is considered.

The lingering question is just how we can harness this understanding. The scientific community is paving the way for epigenetics, the cat has caught it's tail? In fitting with the theme, the solution should be more proactive; we just need to understand our potential. Or perhaps we need to agree on our potential.

Introducing ethics into the story makes things all the more awkward. After all, isn't this where we've been all along? But with the impossibility now considered, of engineering a super human race not through scientific meddling, but through social change, the danger arises that it will be all the more selective. We can make our personal choices, and aid or abet our grandchildrens future -now more than ever- but the great struggle must go on hand in hand; it's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and there is no race involved.

And here the circle trips over it's loose end and neatly closes shut. Still, having peered behind the scenes only to be looking back out at the audience at least allows time to remember the first okapi who gazed up at the tasty green leaves in the crown of the trees and thought "maybe, just maybe..."

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