Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where to next?

At some point in the past few days I heard a radio interview with an expert on genetics. Amongst the interesting things covered in the course of the interview was the thought that Homo Sapiens as a species is an evolutionary dead-end.

Amongst the prim-misses he put forward for the delusion was the idea that H-S has evolved to the point of becoming technology-dependant. To support this, he put forward the idea that anyone trying to survive on a totally raw diet (no restrictions on content or quantity) would die within two months from starvation. Why? For the simple reason that we have lost the means of producing natural enzymes essential for the digestion of totally raw food, and also lost the symbiotic bacteria ditto.

An interesting thought. Where are we going as a species? Do we help the long-term survival of the species through our increasing reliance on technology, and especially medical advances. I have made the comment quite a few times now that 100 years ago I would have been lucky to have seen out my 40's.

In another recent discussion it was stated that the commonly accepted age of retirement of 65 years actually comes from a scientific paper of the mid-1800's based on the fact that by then 50% of all people have in fact died. Now, we have advanced to the point where mean life expectancy (50% die before reaching it) is something like 78.

Staying with the "evolutionary dead-end" for the moment, a recent death here in Auckland pointed to another aspect of the same. The Coroner this past week heard evidence into the death of a restaurant patient who had died of an allergic reaction to either peanuts or shellfish. Sad for him and for the family, I acknowledge, given the circumstances. It raised again the question in my mind (following the radio interview I started with) about the continuing viability of the species. There are any number of human deficiencies (including heart defects of the kind I suffer(ed) from) which in times past would not have been continued in the total population other than as the occasional mutation. Thinking back, allergies were almost unheard of in my childhood, there were people who "died suddenly" of "heart failure" usually, who might well have been affected by peanut allergy or bee-sting allergy or similar. Now, (if you add them all together; allergies, coeliac, auto-immune diseases like arthritis) there is an increasing proportion of the total population who survive long enough to pass on their defective genes when in time past they would not have survived long past puberty at best.

The third thought that impinges comes from my sister's efforts to eliminate "curly calf" and Neuropathic Hydrocephalus from her herd. Again, and this leads into the question of "line breeding", is the "purity of line" more important than the long-term genetic stability of a species.

So, where do we go next as a species? Should we be looking to restricting medicine and medical treatments to those who can maintain a healthy gene stock? Are we (as a species and reportedly the descendants of as few as 2000 individuals) so badly line-bred that we can not guarantee long-term survival? Evolution (as a product of adaptation) seems well gone into the past. In all likelihood, given the opening prim-misses, we can no longer adapt. We are nailed solidly to our cross of technology.

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