MadSci Network: Genetics

Re: Can persons with a strong sense of justice be genetically engineered forth?

Date: Thu Sep 11 18:04:44 2003
Posted By: Gabriel Vargas, Post-doc/Fellow, Neurosciences/Psychiatry
Area of science: Genetics
ID: 1057742023.Ge

Your question deals with the ability to engineer specific traits in 
humans such as as a sense of justice and disinclination towards 
materialism. I will begin by discussing some background material however 
my short answer is that this is not possible through simply genetic 
engineering for two reasons; 1) The specific phenotype you want to 
engineer is too abstract and if it were only dependent on genes (highly 
unlikely) it would most definitely be a polygenic trait (caused by many 
genes as opposed to Mendelian where you have one gene with (sometimes) 
two alleles one dominant and one negative) and 2) Since it is very 
unlikely that such a complex trait is entirely genetic, one would have to 
control the environment to develop such a phenotype therefore just 
through genetic engineering it would not be possible to do so.  
The interaction between nature and nurture is a complex one nevertheless 
it is clear that few phenotypes (the actual expression of genes) are 
driven entirely by one or the other.  For complicated traits this is even 
more so.  
However even in many Mendelian traits where you have one gene with 
varieties of alleles present nurture is very important.  For 
phenylketonuria where patients can die from eating phenylalanine 
containing diets you can have a good prognosis by not eating too much 
However, most diseases are polygenic requiring the contribution of a 
variety of genes each one giving susceptibility to the disorder.  Good 
examples are diabetes and schizophrenia.  
Thus to engineer something as complex as a sense of justice if it were 
only dependent on genes would require the manipulation of dozens of genes 
which would be very difficult.  Most likely however, is that a sense of 
justice is more dependent on how one is brought up and taught morals by 
parents and peers rather than by genetic traits.  

Hope this helps,
Gabriel Vargas MD,PhD

Principles of Medical Genetics
by Thomas D., Md. Gelehrter, Francis S., Md. Ph.D. Collins, David, Md. 
Ginsburg, Thomas F. Gelehrter

Living with our Genes 
Dean Hamer

The Mismeasure of Man
Stephen J. Gould

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