The Genome Project: More to the Human Condition Than Genes Alone ; an Alternative View

By Bateson, Pat | The Independent (London, England), June 27, 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Genome Project: More to the Human Condition Than Genes Alone ; an Alternative View


Bateson, Pat, The Independent (London, England)


THE SEQUENCING of the human genome is a staggering scientific achievement. But it is very far from being the definition that would enable us to understand all aspects of human nature. It is more like a cook's larder list - knowing the list does not tell us what can be done with the ingredients.

The starting points of development include the genes. But they also include factors external to the genome and the social and physical conditions in which the individual grows up. You would not realise this from the language used by some scientists and the media today.

Hardly a week goes by without a new and supposedly direct link between genes and human characteristics being reported: intelligence, criminality, homosexuality, feminine intuition - all are said to have their particular gene. The language of a gene "for" a characteristic is very muddling to a non-scientist. While genes obviously matter, even a cursory glance at humanity reveals the importance of each person's experience, upbringing and culture.

Humans learn from experience and from others - education and culture make a big difference, whatever the genetic inheritance. Individuals are not like Japanese paper flowers that open out in water. Nor is their genome a blueprint; adults are not merely expanded versions of the fertilised egg.

Genes do not make behaviour patterns or physical attributes. Genes make proteins. These protein products of genes do not work in isolation, but in an environment created by local conditions and other genes.

The post-genomic phase will be to study how all this happens. The processes involved in behavioural and psychological development have certain similarities to cooking - the raw ingredients and the manner in which they are combined are important.

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The Genome Project: More to the Human Condition Than Genes Alone ; an Alternative View
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