Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jitters from Genomics

A list of landmark scientific achievements thought by our ancestors several generations ago to be impossible would vary considerably from person to person. But most would probably cite space travel, or wireless communication, or today’s startling computer technology. The new science of genomics could not have been imagined by our forebears several generations back. They may have worried that it would not be God’s will for mankind to travel to the moon, talk instantly with someone around the globe, or access virtually any information merely by typing several words. They may have thought that such advanced achievements and knowledge would rob us of time devoted to God or deflect us from the pursuit of truth.

Such scientific advance, indeed, has both upside and downside potential. Space technology serves man with instant satellite communication along with the potential for doomsday weapons. Wireless devices such as cell phones provide the security of being constantly “in touch,” but also offer dangerous distraction and opportunities for wasting time. Information technology helps us access knowledge rapidly and easily, but could also feed dangerous addictions.

Recently a startling new science called “genomics” has emerged. It studies organisms in terms of their full DNA sequence. In 2003, the Human Genome Project was completed. As a result, the entire sequence of hereditary information for humans is now known. That hereditary information is composed of 3 billion “base pairs” bonded to the sugar-phosphate double helix structure of the DNA molecule. Simplified, there are only two “base pairs:” A and T (adenine and thymine), and C and G (cytosine and guanine). The 3 billion-long sequence of base pairs within the DNA molecule, present in almost every human cell, conveys the complete genetic information of every human being alive. Understanding this is somewhat like understanding that a digital television image, for example, is merely a sequence of 0’s and 1’s. The amount of information conveyed, however, can be virtually infinite.

Does knowledge of the human genome benefit humanity? Or is it potentially harmful? Should this knowledge be known only to God, or does God gift men with the knowledge to discover life’s genetic secrets? In future posts, we will explore this question in more depth.