Voice of the Jaabc Editors
The Dynamics of DNA: Implications for Business and Society
One of the most groundbreaking and yet controversial scientific discovery of our time has been DNA research and technology. DNA is defined here as a "self-replicating" material, which embodies nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes, making it the carrier of genetic information. It is, therefore, the molecule of inheritance, which carries an entire set of instructions for making a human being.
According to Charles Darwin's suggestion of the theory of evolution, more favorable characteristics have the tendency to be passed on to the next generation. This seminal idea has spawned more than 150 years of discoveries by giving us the understanding to curing various diseases and to challenging racial stereotypes to cite a few areas. In this editorial, eight most fascinating areas of DNA will be presented, followed by a brief discussion of their implications for business and society.
Ancestry DNA. One of the tantalizing areas of DNA research has intrigued the scientist as well as the layperson is the DNA analysis which has given us the ability to find out information about our ancestors from many thousands of years ago. One cannot find out names or any other personal details, but one can discover as to which deep ancestral groups one belongs. As a result, information about one's ancestors' geographical distribution and migration routes out of Africa could be mapped which requires a lengthy scientific process.
A whole new industry is being established on line, promising to discover one's family story DNA can tell just for $79. The common promotional appeal runs something like this: Uncover your ethnic mix, discover distant relatives, and find new details about your unique family history with a simple DNA test. Some ancestry DNA businesses claim to have the world's largest consumer DNA database. One is encouraged to order a complete kit with easy-to-follow instructions, to return a small saliva sample in a prepaid envelope, and thus one's DNA will be analyzed at more than 700,000 genetic markers.
The Origin of Human Species. DNA analysis has also given us extraordinary insights into the beginnings of the human race. Evidence based on DNA, anatomically modern humans first emerged in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Then they moved out of Africa around 60 to 70,000 years ago and colonized the various parts of the world, displacing other indigenous human groups such as the Neanderthals in Europe and the Denisovans in Asia.
Although DNA analysis has shown us the deepest history of humankind, it has also created the geopolitical problem of what people in a certain geographical area are indigenous and others are new comers. This kind of societal conflict is created all over the globe. For example, the Inuit (aka Eskimos) claim to be the indigenous people of the Northern Territory of Canada, and the European colonizers as new comers. Therefore, the Inuit claimed the vast Northern Territory as their Nunavut (meaning "our land" in Inuit language) and they succeeded in establishing an autonomous territory.
Debunked Racial Prejudices. Long before the advent of genetic research, some 19 century scientists tried to determine the relationship of brain size and intelligence. These studies were conducted long before reliable IQ tests were invented. One scientist even went as far as to pour rice into the skulls of white men and black men. Since the skulls of the white men could hold more rice, the conclusion was that white men were more intelligent than their black counterparts. From societal standpoint, this was very disturbing and controversial for creating stereotyping among the human spices.
As genetic research advanced, studies have revealed that all humans are around 99.5 percent genetically identical, regardless of race. This type of DNA knowledge has challenged misconceptions about race and proved that we are all equal. In recent years, however, scientists have discovered that people with large skulls are more likely to fare well in their mature adult years when it comes to remembering what they are doing. In other words, when it comes to brainpower, size of the skull does matter.
DNA Upheld Justice. Owning to our advanced DNA knowledge, many crimes have been solved. DNA fingerprinting has revolutionized criminal investigations and it has become a crucial tool in identifying the guilty and liberating the innocent. In this way, society has been armed with a weapon to combat crime and punish the real criminals. DNA has also helped society in another important way. Presently, DNA testing can establish paternity beyond a reasonable doubt. Many children, who otherwise would never have known their father for sure, have been reunited with their biological fathers.
Predict and Cure Inherited Diseases. Inherited, or genetic, diseases were enigma to health care providers. In 1902, Sir Archibald E. Garrod changed that. He was the first to associate inheritance with a human disease and later other scientists were able to identify the cause of more disorders such as Down syndrome and sickle cell disease.
DNA science and technology have also enabled us to predict inherited diseases. Certain genetic disorders are caused by a number of genetic defects acting in unison. Cancer, for example, is the result of cellular changes due to genetic mutations. For the first time in 1990, the first gene to be associated with increased susceptibility to familial breast and ovarian cancer was identified as BRCA1 and BRCA2 which paved the way to the introduction of breast cancer tests for women whose families happen to carry an altered form of the genes.
GM-Crop Business. These crops are made resistant to pests; and secondly, made tolerant to weed killers and herbicides. GM crops have been controversial. Regardless of the heated debates, however, they have had a big impact on the way some countries produce food. The sale of GM crops is invading the supermarket shelves by leaps and bounds. These crops have become a booming business to supermarkets because of their longer shelf life.
Genetically modified crops have also changed the way the informed consumer prefers to eat. The preference is for organically, unadulterated, unaltered, unsprayed with herbicide crops. These consumers are willing to pay higher prices in order to eat supposedly safer products classified by the buzz word "Organic."
Big economies such as the USA, including Brazil and China, are cultivating genetically modified crops. On the other hand, there are countries that are abstaining from producing such crops. The European Union, for example, has largely resisted the escalating trend of adopting these kinds of crops. Therefore, these kinds of crops are still relatively uncommon in the EU markets. The implication to society is that these types of crop will help solve the world's food shortages. Despite the highly anticipated outcomes of GM crops, since their introduction, they have polarized world opinion: many fear that the impact could have negative consequences on the environment, especially for their potential health concerns.
The Blueprint of Life. DNA understanding has made scientists to perform miracles. They were enabled to clone Dolly the Sheep. Dolly became the world's most famous sheep celebrity. She was the first adult mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. This was a ground-breaking achievement to refute the assumption that specialized cells could not be used to create an entire organism. From societal implications of Dolly, questions about the future had been raised whether there would be one day when human clones would be walking among us. Of the greatest concerns has been the possibility of "Designer Babies". While curing inherited diseases is great, creating a baby in the lab by choosing his or her characteristics such as hair color, intelligence, height, is frightening and religiously unacceptable to some.
DNA has also enabled scientists to expand organisms' genetic code. As of 2014, scientists have reported that they had taken significant strides toward altering the fundamental "alphabet of life," by creating an organism containing an expanded artificial genetic code in its DNA. The implications for both business and society are immense for the achievement may lead to the creation of cells that are able to produce medicines or industrial products (which unaltered organisms cannot do the same).
Lifestyle Influence on Gene Expression. One of the most exciting fields of new research has been epigenetics, which means "on genetics" and refers to the biological markers which influence what emerges out of the DNA sequence. According to epigentics, our life experiences and choices tend to influence the activity of these mechanisms, resulting in a change in our gene expressions. Furthermore, these changes in gene expressions can be inherited transmitted from generation to generation. The "Dutch Hongerwinter," the famine influence on the descendants of its victims, provided supporting evidence to this phenomenon. Decades after the famine, scientists analyzed Dutch medical records and discovered the impact of pre-natal exposure to famine. Interestingly enough, these children's own children, who were well-fed, were also significantly underweight. It raised the specter that the famine has had lasting impact on the victim's DNA.
In conclusion, like all scientific break-troughs, DNA has caused controversy. Darwin's theories of natural selection and inheritance divided the opinion of the religious and secular individuals of various persuasions. Most people then viewed that God had created the world in seven days. More and more people are now leaning toward science based on our growing understanding of DNA, which has contributed to business and society considerably through tantalizing discoveries about human nature. All considered, genetic research has the potential of a lot of good implications for business and society in the years to come. Since man was created in the image of God, man now will attempt to become god himself armed with the understanding of DNA workings of life as manifested in humans, animals, and plants.
Z. S. Demirdjian, Ph.D.
Senior Review Editor
California State University, Long Beach
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