Genetics

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The mystery of how attributes are passed from person to person has been present for decades. Today, with knowledge of DNA and genetics, many things are possible that could never have been done before, such as gene therapy and cloning[1]. The evolution of genetics has brought a new science to the world, and opens the door to many possibilities such as those in science fiction.

Contents

Summary

Genetics is the branch of biology that studies heredity and variation in organisms[2].The advancement in the study of genetics has lead to new technologies such as cloning and stem-cell research. The possibilities of this science were first realized with the birth of Dolly in 1997, a cloned sheep[3]. More recently the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, identified all the genes in the human genome, opened up more doors to genetic research[4]. Today, stem cell research offers a new technology to reproduce cells and tissues for the possibility of treating diseases and injuries that otherwise would not be treatable, such as spinal cord injuries and Alzheimer's disease[5]. As the understanding of genetics improves, this technology, though may not be available anytime soon, could potentially lead humans to choose their own attributes or their children's genes. Choosing our own genes could create people with certain talents specialized for certain jobs. This could lead to human cyborgs, or at least blur the definition of humanity.


Connection to Tropes

Blurring of Categories

If humans start to manipulate their own genes and decide what genes are "good" and what genes are "bad", then they could arguably be creating human cyborgs. Instead of the traditional thought on what a cyborgs is, a human enhanced with electronic or mechanical parts [6], in this case people would be enhancing humans with organic parts, that too ‘synthetically’ produced organic parts in a chemical lab. Although the definition of a cyborg involves mechanical fractions, this could alter the definition of a cyborg, especially if humans are enhanced with organic parts that are "human-like". This would blur the difference between human and machine. In a world where this is possible, these human "cyborgs", representing machine labor, would overtake human labor because these enhanced humans would inevitably be better at that job. This notion ties back to the 'identity crisis' created by the crumbling of simplistic categories which confuses our understanding of ourselves relative to how we rank with our perception of certain categories. Donna Haraway specifically mentions the difficulty in categorizing human vs animal, human-animal vs machine, and non-physical vs physical. With genetic modifications, it would not be far fetched to see animal/human hybrids, or synthetic human hybrids that portray specific animalistic qualities which makes it harder to discern where the line is drawn between what defines an animal and the traditional human. If our categories are defined purely by physically qualities, then our understanding is limited to comprehend the consciously creative aspect of what makes a human. Genetics can be thought of as a form of art and possessing or expressing specific genes that embody the individuality of what has thought to have defined humans. As Donna Haraway suggest, we are all cyborgs. We have, through evolution in expression (media), technology (our current tools) and social organization (our interaction with other “categories”), all become cyborgs. By this reasoning, modifying ourselves with genetic mutations should be considered nothing more than incorporating another aspect that defines our definition of being a human.

Connection to Readings

Frankenstein

In this novel, a monster is created from scratch using spare organic parts. The author clearly conveys the negative consequences of such a hastily thought out decision to create the monster. Although this creation is a breakthrough in science, the monster has no proper place in the world. As with the future of genetics, the pros and cons must be completely thought through before any action is taken forth in the name of science.

The Cyborg Manifesto

This manifesto specifically talks about the blurring of lines between opposing forces, in this case humans and machines. It also states that defining a line between two opposing forces implies that one dominates the other. In this case, as genetics continue to develop, the line blurs between what is human, machine, and a cyborg. Supposedly a cyborgs is the definition of the answer to this debate. However "definition" is the box we humans use to compartmentalize categories. Donna Haraway exposes the limitations of compartmentalizing perception by showing how lines are blurring between the most fundamental definitions to words like human, animal, machine, etc with the increasing complexities of technology that encompasses many different "compartments.

Schismatrix

In this novel, technological advances have been made in genetics, chemistry, and bionics which have given rise to various diverse cultures and environments in space. It has enabled people to overcome natural human limitations such as old age, forgetfulness, and enhanced their thought process to higher levels of "consciousness". Sterling’s prime example of such diversification is represented by Lindsay, the anti-hero of the novel. Due to the Shaper’s and Mechs feud, Lindsay became focused on surviving and breaking down the boundaries of the Human form for the sake of surviving --be it through his shaper training, genetic engineering or mechanical augmentation. He essentially became not only a mechanical but a biological cyborg, something not far fetched from our projected future. To survive, like Lindsay, humans will use any means to advance, even what today may controversial genetic modifications. Lindsay’s character, taken with respect to the various fractions in the universe, symbolizes human beings as creatures of amalgamation and our culture is the reflection of that fact. He lives in a type of existence where individuality appears to exist, but does not seem to matter (citation), similar to the current trend of our current existence with regards to technology, specifically communication means over the internet. Shapers in this novel have particularly grayed the area of how technology is defined. Traditionally, especially 30 or so years ago technology was non-virtual mechanical hardware that exceeded human labor or ability in doing some process, i.e. television, gears, or digital watches. Today, technology is a broader term that incorporates the intangible internet and organic biological genetic manipulations. Donna Haraway may suggest that this change, a progress in technology, may limit our perception in accurately defining a cyborg. Mechanist are prime examples of traditional textbook cyborgs, but are Shapers? Shaper's do not rely on mechanical modes of transcending the human form, like the Mechanists do. While it can be argued that these alterations to the human gene pool are not natural, it is, unlike the Mechanist technology, entirely biological, yet genetic modification is still a form of technology incorporated potentially into the human body allowing greater powers and ability, therefore a cyborgs by contextual (verses dictionary) definition.

References

  1. http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/cloning.shtml
  2. http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=genetics
  3. http://www.indianchild.com/human_cloning.htm
  4. http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/home.shtml
  5. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/tech/stemcells/sctoday/
  6. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bionic
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