Inside the Nature vs. Nurture Debate
George Church is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a professor of health sciences and technology at Harvard and MIT. In 1984, Church, along with Walter Gilbert, developed the first direct genomic sequencing method and helped initiate the Human Genome Project. Church is responsible for inventing the concepts of molecular multiplexing and tags, homologous recombination methods, and DNA array synthesizers. Church initiated the Personal Genome Project in 2005 as well as research into synthetic biology. He is director of the U.S. Department of Energy Center on Bioenergy at Harvard and MIT and director of the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Genomic Science at Harvard, MIT and Washington University. He is a senior editor for Nature EMBO Molecular Systems Biology.
There’s this very interesting and complicated connection between our environment, and our genes, and the traits that come out of the environment plus genes. And there’s huge potential. I mean we see amazing abilities. Marie Curie, Albert Einstein. All sorts of arts, and literature and so forth. These are not typical traits of everybody on earth. And to see how interplay of the environment and genes works out requires that we do really a vast experiment involving everybody who is willing to share on the planet, sharing what they know about their environment, and what they know about their DNA, so we can make correlations and see how people can live up to their own potential. I don’t think we should think of this in terms of curing things. To some extent there’s a huge diversity. And we might want more diversity. We might want to figure out what are the positive affects of autism. – mild cases. What are the positive aspects of the incredible diversity we have? And can we make it greater by really understanding all the interactions of environment, culture, and genetics.
You could ask should the government get involved in determining the genetics of intelligence? And at first that sounds horrible, okay? But actually it’s routinely done. Four million kids per year in hospitals are tested for phenylketonuria, PKU, a little prick on their heel, and you find out whether they have this thing which could be considered 100% genetic. Meaning if you have this two doses of the bad form of this, you are almost certain to be mentally retarded. So that’s a very high certainty. But on the other hand, it could be considered 100% environmental; because if you know it and you change your diet so you don’t have ___________ in your diet, you don’t have mother’s milk, for example, which has ________, then you could be of completely normal intelligence. So this is something where knowing the interaction between the environment and the genes is neither one nor the other, nor is it even something where you can say it’s 50/50. It’s completely . . . It requires a really integrated, holistic view of the person’s physiology. And there are many, many, things like that. Recorded on: 7/6/07
George Church reveals the secrets to holistic physiology.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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