The article “Biology and Behavior” states that our genetic makeup plays an important role in how we behave. Although the debate continues whether or not we should rely solely on genetics to solve society’s problems; society must admit that genetics does play a vital role in how behavior is determined. Also scientists constantly study the effects of how different combination of genes causes certain behavior in laboratory animals. Genetic research is here to stay and as a society we are going to have to learn to deal with all its varied moral, legal, and social issues that this subject raises.
Our first look into genetic engineering comes in the form of understanding how our genes affect behavior. Researchers working in this field also look at other factors including environment. For example sometimes the environment has an effect on our body’s chemical makeup that causes genes to interact in ways that they were not meant to. To illustrate, a study of children in Philadelphia’s inner city showed that due to the high concentration levels of lead in their environment certain genetic qualities have manifested themselves in the form of disruptive behavior and in lower grades. Understanding that the environment can alter genes adds additional variables into the genes verses environment equation.
Although environment plays an important role in how humans develop, it is important to understand why genetic research is necessary rather than to approach the problem from a purely social context. The obvious reasons seem to go down the path of good intentions. If doctors identify a fetus with some form of a genetic defect, they feel that with proper genetic identification, there would be a good chance to correct this problem while the child is still in the mother’s womb.
Scientists have known for around seventy years now that a combination of certain genes can cause specific hereditary diseases. For example, in the mid-1990s scientific discoveries identified my ex-wife’s maternal family line to contain the BRCA1 gene. They directly linked this gene to breast cancer and when my ex-wife’s mother died from it, we were very concerned. As a result, all the female members of her mother’s family including my ex-wife participated in tests to determine if they had the gene or not. Statistics show that there is a fifty-fifty chance that any woman could develop breast cancer. Having this gene increases the risk of cancer another fifteen to twenty five percent. One of my ex-wife’s aunts had the gene and made the decision to have her breasts removed in order to circumvent the possibility of actually contracting breast cancer. Knowing ahead of time that my ex-wife’s family had this BRCA1 gene I know that I will have my daughter go in and be checked specifically for the BRCA1 gene, however I am not sure if she tests positive I will actually urge her to remove her breasts.
The director of genetic division and development biology at the National Institute of General Medical Science, Dr. Judith Greenberg says, “Most of the research focus has been on improving diagnoses and treating straightforward diseases.” It is important to note that environmental factors and how they interact with genes also play a part in the diagnosis of diseases. The understanding of how this all works is still in its infancy. The research into understanding of how genes work and how to “fix” them warrants further investigation. The United States loses billions of dollars every year due to sickness, lower productivity and the cost of medical services.
Being able to correct defective genes without the use of gene manipulation has been researched for many years now. In the case of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD scientist have been using drugs aimed at certain parts of the brain that produces the chemicals, which tell us to pay attention and concentrate. The problem, scientists and researchers complain, is that we are not solving the problem but just curing the symptom. If doctors and scientists can actually locate the combination of genes that are deficient in causing the brain to produce the right chemicals; then we would have really solved the underlying issue.
These are some of the possible benefits of genetic research; however there is also a darker side of gene manipulation that also needs to some consideration. The laboratory of Neurobiologist Evan Balaban has shown us how man has had more of an effect on the genetic structure of a living being rather than the environment. Like Dr. Frankenstein he has taken the genes of a quail and transplanted them in into a chicken. The newborn genetically altered chicken displays the behavior of a quail instead. Another example of this type of gene manipulation also occurs with mice. Researchers removed what they call the “nurturing” gene from a group of laboratory mice. And when their young were born, the parents totally ignored the newborn mice.
Scientist not only research on mice and chickens they experiment with human brain stem cells. According to Adriel Bettlheim in her CQ Researcher Article “Embryo Research” she states that there are two important sources for these embryos; they are aborted or donated fetuses. Being that stem cells are closer to any other type of cells they are able to create replacement parts for human patients that range anywhere from new bone and cartilage to revolutionizing transplantation medicine.
Many scientists believe that the benefits will outweigh the negatives of this research. Understanding how human DNA along with the genetic relationships that cause diseases and unwanted behavior will hopefully teach us how to correct these conditions. Understandably this opens many legal and ethical questions that society and government need to answer before this decade is over. Some of the questions concerning this type of research are discrimination and racism. Being diagnosed with a certain defective gene may lead to an inability to qualify for insurance and medical services. Also this line of thinking leads us down a more dangerous path.
The question of a race being predisposed to violent or criminal behavior due to their genetic make up has inflamed both scholars and civil rights groups. A psychologist at the University of Western Ontario at London by the name of J. Phillipe Rushton argues that violence and criminal behavior has a direct link to the genes of the people committing these crimes, Rushton argues that, “If race were an arbitrary, socially constructed concept, devoid of all biological meaning, such consistent relationships would not exist.” Rushton continues to argue that, “Facts remain facts, and require appropriate scientific, not political, explanation.” The study of genetics in the past has led directly to the ostracizing of certain groups and the legitimizing racism in our land. The subject remains volatile for many reasons due to the research that has been conducted over the years supporting that certain genes or the chemicals they produce like serotonin, are related to certain behavioral tendencies.
Finally, there are many reasons to conduct genetic research and move down the genetically engineered path even though that road is littered with danger and controversy. Overall it is necessary to look forward to the future of genetic engineering and research not only from a scientific perspective but also with our hearts in order to allow us to overcome these obstacles.
Bettelheim, A. “Biology and Behavior”. The CQ Researcher Online, 8. 3 April 1998, Retrieved May 9, 2005, from <http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1998040300> . Document ID: cqresrre1998040300
Bettelheim, Adriel. “Embryo Research.” The CQ Researcher Online 9.47 (1999). 20 June 2005 <http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1999121700 >. Document ID: cqresrre1999121700.
Rushton, J Phillips. “Race as a Biological Concept” Stalking the Wild Taboo 4 November 1996,
< http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/stalkers/jpr01.html >