The Human Genome

There are many films and novels that explore the issue of controlling human genetics. It is easy to think that a world where our genes are selected is far off or impossible, but one has to take into account that there are several very large projects being developed that track the human genome of one cultural group or, in some cases, several. In the essay “Biocolonialism, Genomics, and the Databasing of the Population” by Eugene Thacker, we are shown the magnitude of these projects.

Thacker also outlines some of the major fears that are often associated with human genome projects. One of the largest taboo concepts is biocolonialism—taking samples of genetic material in order to find the economic or medical value. This ties in closely with issues of race and population. As part of discovering the genome, there will inevitably be race identification. Currently, activists find that this identification makes it okay to emphasize racial and ethnic differences. Taking that one step further, Once we have figured out where these genes can be found and how we can alter them,  a deeper level of discrimination would be possible.

It is scary to think about how much power is held in knowing and understanding the human genome. At the present time, most projects do not progress with the intent of being able to use the genome, but rather to understand it.

If you take a look at the research goals of the popular Human Genome Project, you can see that there is no negative intent outlined. They simply wanted to discover all the genes available to humans and determine the sequence of these genes. What the researchers discovered was that the project was much larger than they had anticipated.

http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/hg5yp/index.shtml

Even though the research aspect of this project has finished, people still continue to analyses their findings. Thus, there is still potential for this project and others, which started off innocent, to become something bigger and threatening than it already is. Thacker mentions how biology, anatomy, and politics is already starting to come together to create a biopolitical power. The consequences he outlines of this are in line with what some people fear about studying the human genome.

Like with any new technology, it is difficult to see what direction this will be taken. But it will be interesting to see how the body and technology will merge in the future.

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2 Comments

  1. It’s important to remember as well the role that computers and the digital play in this analysis. Without the superior data handling capabilities of modern computing, the vast array of data for the Human Genome Project couldn’t be processed–at least, not at the same pace. I’m reminded of a sci-fi novel (whose name escapes me) where a self-aware computer came into being using the collective blood samples of the human race. Since the cells could be oxygenated or not, they formed the ones and zeros necessary for binary coding–through a biological analog, the computer formed a distributed consciousness that was, at its core, made up of human dna. While the project here is less Frankenstein and more number crunching, it’s important to remember how the simplest basic human elements create much larger systems and processes.
    –MH

  2. I think that one other important notion within the human genome coming to be is that of control. With having this information, are we advancing in the way of medicalization but going back in our advancement of human rights and respect? Will we end up colonizing once more, and if so why? We may have control of more on one hand, but a lot of the population then loses any control that they have at this very moment. The government instead would be in control. So it may be one giant leap for human understanding in a strictly scholarly way, but it will be one giant step back for human understanding and treatment of who people are and what they represent as humanity.


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