Friday, February 05, 2016


I’ve never forgotten the trepidation — but also driving curiosity — of learning to read.  With no idea of what happens in a brain to allow such a thing, I simply did what I thought was trying:  staring hard while running my eyes along the lines of print.  Something like trying to ride a bicycle.  You push off and pedal.   At some point something happens and you’re doing it.  So that’s how I’m trying to understand discussions of genetics and the influence of certain molecules.  I just run my eyes over the sentences, which are full of mysterious stuff, in hopes that I’ll suddenly understand.  It’s not the same as taking a class.  Far more disorderly.

So far, I’ve got this:  “Humans normally have 46 chromosomes in each cell, divided into 23 pairs. Two copies of chromosome 8, one copy inherited from each parent, form one of the pairs. Chromosome 8 spans about 146 million DNA building blocks (base pairs) and represents between 4.5 percent and 5 percent of the total DNA in cells.

Google could not tell me the difference between paired chromosomes and the double helix (paired) genes.  I think many people confuse the two.  But chromosomes are much bigger than genes which are molecular.  Genes are on the helixes, not on the chromosomes.  This is where one needs a teacher.  But my conception is that the helixes on which the genes spell out formulas must be curled tightly as yarn strands to amount to chromosomes.  Uncurled, they stretch tremendous distances.

“Identifying genes on each chromosome is an active area of genetic research. Because researchers use different approaches to predict the number of genes on each chromosome, the estimated number of genes varies. Genes on chromosome 8 are among the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 total genes in the human genome.  Some of these genes appear to be the difference between human and chimp.

“Chromosome 8 likely contains between 700 and 1,100 genes.

“Chromosome 9 likely contains between 800 and 1,300 genes. 

“Chromosome 14 likely contains between 800 and 1,300 genes. “

As nearly as I can tell from Google, the pair of sex determining chromosomes is the 23rd pair.  The two chromosomes of the pair are mismatched: one is X and the other may be Y, which is much smaller.  Some suggest it is an X with an "arm" or "leg" torn off. If there are two XX chromosomes in the pair, the result is female.  If it is XY, then the result is male.  The number of genes would be unequal between the two chromosomes.  Presumably, what is missing is the instructions for the egg, which is much bigger than the little halves of code with a tail called sperm.  The egg needs directions for all the machinery of the cell.

The criteria for a species is whether the creature can reproduce within that group.  It's not about size or shape of genitals -- it's about molecules.  Even though human beings, chimps, and bonobos (our closest relatives) share 98.8 of their genes, we can only overlap, not be fertile inter-breeders, because we have been evolving separately for a very very long time.  In fact, the genes are arranged into a different number of chromosomes.  BUT humans carry neanderthal genes and we did overlap in time.  So are neanderthals the same species as we are?

“If human and chimp DNA is 98.8 percent the same, why are we so different? Numbers tell part of the story. Each human cell contains roughly three billion base pairs, or bits of information. Just 1.2 percent of that equals about 35 million differences. Some of these have a big impact, others don't. And even two identical stretches of DNA can work differently -- they can be "turned on" in different amounts, in different places or at different times.”  DNA instructs the construction of molecules — it is the MOLECULES that matter.

Human v. chimp

Brains, just like the rest of the body, evolve.  By slightly different timing, sequencing, and combining of molecule production, all human organs and cells work a little differently from those of each other and more differently from other species.  All humans of every "race" can produce children together.  African, Chinese, Swedish, whatever.  So far.  More and more humans are struggling to make babies. Our molecule management systems are having to adapt to molecules that never existed before.  We made them in a lab.  The body doesn't know what to do with them. Infertility is becoming a problem.  Fishes are getting scrambled about who is the female.

Scientists can compensate in many ways, which offers very expensive experiments. For instance, in a recent lab experiment, the short section of genes containing the molecular instructions for fertilizing an ovum were separated from their Y chromosome (male) and were used to make “sperm” which did indeed fertilize ovum and start them growing.  This is not parthenogenesis, which is an ovum that just starts growing without a sperm, maybe because of some kind of shock or special condition, like PH.  In some lower orders of creature, this is not problematic. Just another way of doing business. 

I don’t know whether the lab-made “sperm,” which would normally be half of a set of double helix human instructions,  were conveyed right into the ovum with a pipette or were actually cells with tails and the proper “sonar” for seeking and penetrating an ovum.  A condition of being allowed to do the experiment was that the scientists destroy the resulting “morula” before it could develop further, maybe to the next stage: “blastocyst.”

“A morula is distinct from a blastocyst in that a morula (3-4 days post fertilization) is an 16 cell mass in a spherical shape whereas a blastocyst (4-5 days post fertilization) has a cavity inside the zona pellucida along with an inner cell mass. A morula, if untouched and allowed to remain implanted, will eventually develop into a blastocyst.” 

In these experiments, the scientists are required to destroy the blastocyst to keep it from developing into a monster, but something in the body must check what’s going on at this stage, because even naturally many of these little beginnings are lost. Part of the experimentation is to find out why.  Clearly for many there was a glitch in the code that prevented further development.  

But what drives the funding of such experiments is cultural -- long-standing convictions that to many people are real. They become obsessed with the idea that they MUST have a baby with their own genetics, which was only situational and emotional — nothing to do with science or human tissues.  We are hypnotized by these convictions, which are driven by the inheritance of wealth and power down through centuries.

One MUST have children to inherit one’s wealth and status.

One OWNS those children, because they are an extension of oneself through time.

Sons are JUST LIKE FATHERS and will manage wealth and reputation just as their fathers did, which is good for everyone.

If those children get out of control or are a source of disgrace, they should be killed. Like a lab morula. 

An honor killing victim.

In the Middle East, men legally kill daughters, wives, and sisters, in a set of laws called “honor killing.”  Women are captive, sequestered, and cloaked because resources are scarce and the guarantee of biological origin is of extreme importance.  Motherhood can be witnessed, but until we figured out the genome, fatherhood was never provable.  Women could claim to have been impregnated by God to avoid being punished or killed for unfaithfulness.  It worked for Jesus' mother, didn't it?

These rules are good for the group, and in a situation where one is dependent on group support in order to survive, individualists are identified and driven out or just killed.  This is biological, sub-human, almost insectoid.  It persists because in places where there is not enough, it works. Evolution is about what works, even when the context is behavior rather than what cells and inheritance do.  If we have the technology to intervene, what should we do with it? What do we do about imitation inserted non-complete "code dads" when we still haven't figured out what to do about donor dads who sold their sperm?

Behavior that tends to break up the group consensus and identity will put the individual at risk.  Some groups will simply pull away, some will incarcerate, some will kill, and some will ignore to the point of death, as with troublesome children.   Social evolution happens when there are enough ignored, starved, troublesome individuals that they band together to support each other.  Those who have been resourceful and clever enough to survive into adulthood may remember and reach back to help younger versions of themselves.

If they only duplicate the behaviour of the original group, the tragedy will repeat itself.  If they can find new values and strategies that make both groups “richer” by adding new ecological niches, then they can co-exist and both groups thrive.  Killing is no longer helpful to the group.  Protecting everyone’s children creates wealth.

A petrel flying in a storm

Even in my nuclear family I’ve been an oddball, obstinate, defiant — what one ministerial supervisor called “a stormy petrel.”  This gives me a special sympathy for the rest of my outcast flock of friends even if I insist on flying into the teeth of a storm alone.

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