In a recent article, Harvard biologist Mansi Srivastava was quoted as saying: “I can give you a list of genes that seem to be associated with an increase in complexity [of organisms], but at some level that’s not very powerful information. It can’t explain why a human looks like a human and a sponge looks like a sponge.”
I’ll admit that I have referred, not very nicely, to some human beings as “sponges.”
Still, I would have thought that biologists and genetics researchers, who are often the sources of dramatic claims about new therapies that will transform human beings by editing their DNA, would at least have figured out why we don’t look like sponges.
The new revelation in the article, posted by Johnathan Lambert in the Nautilus blog, is that the genomes (full genetic compositions) of species of organisms have not increased very much in complexity over time, yet the physical and functional complexity of organisms has increased dramatically.
Let’s consider the jellyfish (just for a moment).
In the history of evolution, jellyfish represent a “quantum leap” in bodily complexity compared to organisms that begin life in the same way. Unlike their cousins, jellyfish let go of the ocean floor, detect light, and move about the ocean deliberately.
But the limited number of “new” genes in the jellyfish apparently do not explain the body structure of jellyfish, nor does the body’s use of the genes, or when they are used.
The slow, incremental evolution of genomes illustrates how we human beings can share two-thirds of our genetic makeup with the much simpler fruit flies that evolved 800 million years ago.
With this awareness, we should be very nervous.
We should experience shivers down our spines as we consider the aggressive efforts of genetics researchers to create therapies that will edit the genes of human embryos.
If small changes in genetic structures over a half billion years resulted in organisms that are millions of times more complex than the original organisms, it is insanity – or self-hatred for imperfection – to consider tinkering with the genes of humanity and human individuals.
Removal or replacement of any such genes could have enormous effects on humanity, and some effects could be disastrous.
Biologists and genetics researchers have barely scratched the surface of understanding why and how genetic structures and individual genes influence the nature of organisms, especially humans.
Moreover, the effects of genetic editing will likely alter not just body structures, but also the experience and perhaps the survival of human nature.
As explained in an earlier blog post, given human nature is so much more than the collection of characteristics, capabilities, and behaviors of human beings. It is more than the thoughts or the emotions that we experience.
Human nature is a God-given form of existence that has been shared by all human beings and which includes our spirituality, love, sanctity, creativity, consciousness, and many more aspects that remove human beings far from the category of mere animals.
Still, we are biological beings whose nature is largely influenced by our genetic makeup. Changing our genes can change who we are. Changing our genes can alter and possibly end the generational preservation of our human nature. It will certainly change, unpredictably, how we experience that human nature.
And that would be an unimaginable tragedy.
We must also be permitted to bear in mind that evolution, though it may explain everything else, cannot explain itself.
~ Goldwin Smith