Prodigy – Episode 3
If you were raised by a different family, how different do you think you’d be?
Would your personality be the same? Would you have a different religion?
Exactly how much does your DNA determine who you are?
It’s impossible to know right? Or is it…?
My name is Lowell Brillante and this is Prodigy
170 years ago, Gregor Mendel ran an experiment cross breeding pea plants for desirable traits and founded what would become the science of modern genetics.
Mendel had discovered genes, the unit of inheritance passed down from parent to child.
100 years after that, before we had the technology and knowledge that we have today, people wanted to know the answer to a basic but complicated question. Is our life and behaviour dictated by genetics or environment? Nature vs nuture.
It had to be a combination of both, but how could we untangle them in order to measure their effects?
We needed to hold one constant so we could measure the other. If we could quantify one, we could deduce that effects unaccounted for were caused by the other.
It’s difficult and morally unethical to control a human being’s genetics or environment. So how was it done?
A combination of ways.
One was by studying adopted children. They grew up in completely different environments from their birth parents. Similarities to their birth parents were assumed to be inherited while similarities to their adopted parents were assumed to be environmental.
The results of these adoption studies are then combined with twin studies.
There’s 2 types of twins. Fraternal and identical. When 2 sperm fertilize 2 eggs you get fraternal twins. They share 50% dna and are equivalent to siblings. When 1 sperm fertilizes 1 egg and then splits you get identical twins with identical dna.
Dr Robert Plomin is a geneticist and psychologist. He’s been studying twins for over 40 years years and is one of the most cited psychologists of this century.
Plomin: [00:23:26] twin and adoption studies are the two main ways we used to use for a century to ask the extent to which differences between people in a trade, some performance trait, like memory or something like that, memory ability, to what extent are the differences between people.
Dr Nancy Segal is an award winning geneticist and psychologist.
Segal: I think we’re interested in studying twins for two reasons first is that they’re a beautiful natural experiment. Very simple, very elegant that allows us to look at the genetic and environmental influences on behavior simply by comparing identical twin similarities to fraternal twin similarities. I think the other reason why we’re so taken with twins is linked to the fact that we all grow up expecting. And learning about individual differences in behavior and inform. And so when we encounter two people who look so much alike and act so much alike, it challenges our belief and the way the world works. And we find this resemblance so intriguing.
Since fraternal and identical twin pairs are usually raised by the same parents in the same environment, we could compare how similar the pairs were to estimate if a trait was environmental or genetic. Since fraternal twins share 50% DNA while identical twins share 100% DNA, if a trait was more often shared by identical twins it was assumed to be genetic.
Identical twins have matching DNA, so they are also a perfect phenomenon to measure the influence of the environment. Identical twins usually share an environment so similarities could be environmental as well. But if the identical twins have completely different environments then we could assume that similarities between the twins are genetic and differences are environmental. This is known as “identical twins reared apart.”
The year was 1980 and 19 year old Bobby Shafran had just arrived for his first day at Sullivan Community College in upstate New York. As he headed to his dorm room he realized the students there were really nice to strangers. They greeted him as if he was an old friend. The weird thing was they kept calling him “Eddy.” “My name is Bobby” he told them, but they just laughed. They thought he was joking, and he thought they were.
Bobby found his room and was met by his new roommate, Michael Domitz. Michael was confused and started asking Bobby questions. What’s your birth date? Were you adopted?
Bobby looked very similar to his last roommate Eddy, too similar, and Michael knew that Eddy wasn’t returning to Sullivan that year. The 2 boys ran to the nearest payphone and called Eddy. He answered and when Michael put the phone to Bobby’s ear… he heard his own voice.
Bobby and Eddy were identical twins separated at birth. They were strikingly similar, and in many more ways than simply physical appearance. They were both wrestlers. They spoke the same, laughed the same, had the same birthmark and even and shared the same IQ score of 148.
Everyone was shocked and the news quickly made its way to the local paper. The next day they got a phone call from a young man named David. Turns out they actually weren’t twins… they were triplets!
This was the beginning of a media sensation that swept the nation. Triplets separated at birth and raised in different families with different socioeconomic statuses. The story is told in the documentary “three identical strangers.”
Another famous story is of the Jim twins. They were adopted to different families in 1940. Both families named them James but called them Jim. The twins both liked carpentry but disliked spelling. They both married a woman named Linda. Then divorced and married a woman named Betty. They even both gave their son the same name, James Allan. They were both nail biters, got tension headaches, and vacationed at the same beach in Florida.
There’s other interesting stories of identical twins reared apart, and they’re all very similar.
In 1979 a study began which analyzed 137 pairs of twins reared apart to determine the range of genetic effects.
Dr Nancy Segal was a researcher in this study for 9 years and was surprised by some of the behaviors that showed genetic influence, such as religion.
Segal: Research has measured virtually everything. When I was at the University of Minnesota on the Minnesota study of twins raised apart, we studied psychological measures, physiological medical. just about everything that you could think of was in there. I think shoe size was the only thing we forgot about glove size, but we had virtually everything else. And then, the thing that I’m very interested in our twin relationships and how they compare to relationships are very, of other types of people who vary in relatedness, genetically speaking.
After measuring nearly every possible metric they concluded that identical twins raised apart are more similar than fraternal twins raised together.
Here’s Dr Plomin.
Plomin: And the amazing thing is all traits and personality, all psychological traits, including personality are heritable, including ones you might not expect to be like safe, femininity, even attitudinal things, So the first law of behavioral genetics is everything is heritable.
So twin and adoption studies are a way for researchers to study nature and nuture.
In 1990 the largest ever collaborative biological project began. It cost 2.7 billion dollars and took 13 years but in 2003 was completed successfully. We mapped the human genome and gained access to the source code of our own species.
We discovered that each person consists of a 99.9% identical 6 billion letter genetic code. So the dna difference between you and me and Brat Pitt is .01%
That slight difference in our code is called genetic variance and is part of what makes us unique. Each person has around 5 million of these variances.
The variances exist when an individual has a different nucleotide in a dna fragment which is called a single nucleotide polymorphism. We abbreviate them as snp’s or snips.
Polygenic means multiple genes, and a polygenic score is a number that estimates the effect of multiple genetic variances on an individual’s characteristics like weight or height or personality.
We used to believe that a single gene controlled these traits. Here’s Dr Plomin.
Plomin: We’ve learned that it’s not one or 10 or a hundred DNA differences that make a difference for complex traits. Like we’re talking about psychological traits, like personality, cognitive abilities, psychopathology, for example, in no case, is there other.
One or 10 or a hundred genes. What we’re talking about is thousands of tiny DNA differences. And that’s a real drag. If you’re a molecular biologist and you want to study pathways from genes to brain to behavior, because if there’s thousands of these DNA differences, they all have very small effects. So it’s really difficult to trace any of those pathways.
But what you can do is put these together in a score you can aggregate. All these tiny DNA differences and that’s what you get. That’s what we call a polyanionic score, and that can be useful for prediction. And that’s the main thing I’m interested in is making predictions about people’s personality, cognitive abilities, and psychopathology.
So instead of looking for a single gene responsible for something like IQ, instead we look at the smaller effects of a lot of them. This is what is known as genome wide polygenic score.
Sequencing a person’s genome by itself doesn’t give us much applicable information because we need something to compare it to. The larger our data set, the more relevant the information becomes.
Observing the genetic variance in many individuals is known as a genome wide association study (GWAS).
So by analyzing the variances in a person’s DNA and comparing it to many other people’s DNA we can learn what these variances do.
Plomin: A good example I really would like to mention is that one of my highest polygenic scores is for body mass index weight. And, it predicts about 10% of the differences between people in weight. And, people say, if you knew you were at a genetic, risk for.
Being obese. You just give up and say, Oh, I’m a genetic fatty, but it’s not like that. by knowing I have this genetic propensity, I know that I’m in a lifelong battle. I’ve known that all before, but I’ve always thinking, Oh, it’s these six pounds I put on at Christmas. It’s not, I put on weight more easily.
It’s harder for me to get rid of it. And I know all your skinny Linux listeners are saying. Just get a grip. if you don’t eat so much, you won’t get fat. it’s easy for a skinny person to say that, but in our fat, in our, what would you call it? our, when we’re bombarded with food messages all the time.
Dr Robert Plomin has been researching behavioral genetics using twin and adoption studies for over 40 years and has published over 800 papers. His most recent book is titled, “Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are” which discusses the conclusions he’s drawn from his years of research.
Plomin: It took a long time to convince psychologists that genetics is important, about 30 years or so, but in the last 10 years or so, the DNA revolution has come along.
And a lot of psychologists still don’t know about it because mostly it’s happening in the medical area, but it’s just as relevant to all psychological traits. I’d say in the next five years, psychologists aren’t gonna know what hit them, cause you won’t be able to do a study if you don’t collect DNA.
The book is considered somewhat controversial for its forceful portrayal of genetics as the dominant force in human behavior. For example, here’s a quote.
“Parents matter, but they don’t make a difference. Parents obviously matter tremendously in their children’s lives. They provide the essential physical and psychological ingredients for children’s development. But if genetics provides most of the systematic variance and environmental effects are unsystematic and unstable, this implies that parents don’t make much of a difference in their children’s outcomes beyond the genes they provide at conception.”
Dr. Plomin’s book received a reasonable amount of criticism, particularly for the idea that parents don’t “make a difference.”
We’ll get into that, after a quick break
Welcome back to Prodigy. So Blueprint has received strong criticism for the way it’s message could be interpreted.
“The most quoted phrase from Blueprint is ‘Parents matter, but they don’t make a difference.’ The phrase ‘don’t make a difference’ is often misconstrued to mean ‘can’t make a difference’. ‘Don’t make a difference’ means that differences in parenting as they exist in the populations we study do not make much of a difference in children’s psychological outcomes.
Plomin: And so there was a view in nature of my book, nature’s one of the big science journals and it was a historian of science and he didn’t speak to the data. He just basically said he didn’t like the results. He’s saying this is a return to determinism. And in my book, I emphasized that this is not, it doesn’t mean it’s not fatalistic.
Dr Plomin was talking about Nathaniel Comfort, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. So I got professor Comfort on the phone to ask him about his position.
Nathan: Particularly I’m interested in the social implications of, thinking about genes too much about an overemphasis on DNA and genes and the kind of social impacts that it has. So I’m in no way, anti genetics. I consider myself a friendly critic and my concern is to see the potential of modern genomics applied in positive ways that benefit people and to try to help us avoid some of the negative consequences.
Professor Comfort is a historian of biomedicine. He looks at these messages in a historical context.
Nathan: I want to start by saying, dr. Plomin is a venerable respected psychologist who has been working on these problems for many years. and so I’m not really going to comment on the actual science, I’m more interested in the way that he’s presenting his science to the public, which I think is honestly reckless and dangerous.
It’s also important to note here that although Dr Plomin had a large data set of 10,000 sets of twins, all of them were born in the UK over the course of 12 months, and had parents who agreed to take part in the research.
So all of the subjects are from a similar geographic and socioeconomic background.
Nathan: the study you’re talking about uses data from UK biobank, which is in fact, overwhelmingly white middle-class Britain’s and it’s in fact, part of why, one of the reasons that. that data bank, that biobank is used so often in these studies is because it controls for, different for race and economic background, because it’s pretty uniform, It’s only sampling one. Population.
So the results from a study using UK biobank data don’t necessarily apply to African-Americans for example, Or Hispanics or Asian or, or cultures in, with large mixes and diversity or poor, or the very poor, or the very rich or whatever.
Dr Plomin wrote to me in an email that this study is applicable to the UK only and can’t be generalized beyond there. However he seems not to include this important qualifier when making some pretty broad interpretations of his findings.
Here is part of what Professor Comfort wrote about Dr Plomin’s book in the Nature article.
“Although Plomin frequently uses more civil, progressive language than did his predecessors, the book’s message is vintage genetic determinism: “DNA isn’t all that matters but it matters more than everything else put together”. “Nice parents have nice children because they are all nice genetically.”
Plomin likes to say that various components of nurture “matter, but they don’t make a difference”. But the benefits of good teaching, of school lunches and breakfasts, of having textbooks and air-conditioning and heating and plumbing have been established irrefutably. And they actually are causal: we know why stable blood sugar improves mental concentration. Yet Plomin dismisses such effects as “unsystematic and unstable, so there’s not much we can do about them”.
Ultimately, if unintentionally, Blueprint is a road map for regressive social policy. Nothing here seems overtly hostile, to schoolchildren or anyone else. But Plomin’s argument provides live ammunition for those who would abandon proven methods of improving academic achievement among socio-economically deprived children. His utopia is a forensic world, dictated by polygenic algorithms and the whims of those who know how to use them. People would be defined at birth by their DNA. Expectations would be set, and opportunities, resources and experiences would be doled out — and withheld — a priori, before anyone has had a chance to show their mettle.
To paraphrase Lewontin in his 1970 critique of Jensen’s argument, Plomin has made it pretty clear what kind of world he wants.
I oppose him.”
At first I didn’t understand Professor Comfort’s critique and why Dr Plomin’s work could possibly be interpreted as genetic determinism. If you’re not familiar with that term it’s the belief that our genetics are the dominant factor for our behavior.” It’s the extreme nature side of the debate the cornerstone of the incredibly problematic theory of eugenics. Professor Comfort makes this point at the end of the article when he references Lewontin’s critique of Jensen.
Arthur Jensen was a very controversial psychologist at Berkley who argued that IQ is largely determined by genes so lower IQ scores from a particular group means inferior genetics. Amongst other issues, this argument hinges on the idea that IQ tests are an accurate and universal measure of intelligence across populations.
Nathan: This kind of determinism tends to amount t o, Form of social Darwinism, basically it tends to support the status quo. it tends to make as poet says, nevermind it, parents, teachers you’re, you don’t matter.
it doesn’t matter how much education we provide, what kind of parental environments we provide. That, when you turn everything into biology or you make all your predictions based on biology or genetics, you’re going to tend to, or there’s a risk of, I will say it’s probabilistic too.
There’s a risk of increasing stratification in society. You’re of creating kind of biological casts. it tends to. Discourage social programs. It’ll continue the erosion of things like public education and public services that we’ve been seeing for the in recent decades. This is, this just plays into the hands of people who are really trying to dissolve the social contract.
But Dr. Plomin rejects the idea that his book is genetic determinism. He argues that he is focusing on DNA because it is the major systemic source of difference in humans. He sees environmental effects as important but quote “mostly random – unsystematic and unstable – which means that we cannot do much about them.” unquote.
I gave Dr Plomin the opportunity to respond to Professor Comfort in an email and this is what he wrote.
I find it hard to believe that a scientist is not aware of the twin and adoption data showing that inherited DNA differences are the major systematic source making us who we are as individuals! Why are identical twins reared apart almost as similar as identical twins reared together. Why do adopted children resemble their birth (genetic) parents but not their adoptive parents? For twins reared together, why are identical twins twice as similar as non-identical twins? Why do DNA differences correlate with individual differences in outcomes?
Here is a quote from Blueprint’s afterward responding to Dr Comfort’s article.
“This was also the main gripe in a review in Nature by an historian who summed up Blueprint as ‘vintage genetic determinism’ and ‘a road map for regressive social policy.’ The reviewer did not address the science of the book; he just didn’t like what he misinterpreted as its message. His last words are: ‘Plomin has made it pretty clear what kind of world he wants. I oppose him.’ I plead not guilty to this charge of genetic determinism. Genetics is the main systematic force in shaping who we are as individuals, but genes are not destiny.
In Blueprint, Dr Plomin says “Genetics is about the extent to which inherited DNA differences account for differences between people. In other words, we can turn the television on or off as we please, but turning it off or leaving it on pleases individuals differently, in part due to genetic factors. Genetics is not a puppeteer pulling our strings. Genetic influences are probabilistic propensities, not predetermined programming.”
I searched Blueprint and found at least 9 other occurrences where Plomin repeats that message.
But while Dr. Plomin says that, “Genetic influences are probabilistic propensities, not predetermined programming,” he also makes bold statements that seem to imply the opposite. For instance, the very first paragraph of the book states..
Quote, What would you think if you heard about a new fortune-telling device that is touted to predict psychological traits like depression, schizophrenia and school achievement? What’s more, it can tell your fortune from the moment of your birth, it is completely reliable and unbiased – and it costs only £100. This might sound like yet another pop-psychology claim about gimmicks that will change your life, but this one is in fact based on the best science of our times. The fortune teller is DNA.
Nathan: It’s absolutely true that genes matter. Just like environment matters and the way they matter the way in which genes and environment interact differs from person to person. And we have no idea. How that works though. The ways those, the, let’s take the, example of musical talent, the way musical talent and a musical, upbringing interact are going to be different from child to child.
We, and because so many different variables, Are attached to both genes and environment. And we have no idea that those interact with each other and genes and specific genetic variations and specific aspects of the environment matter and interact in different ways. And so of course they both matter.
We’ve known that forever and the, this specific ways in which they interact are going to vary from person to person
Dr Plomin also wrote that “Polygenic scores, based on DNA rather than crystal balls, are fortune tellers. As we shall see, prediction is crucial because it is the key to the prevention of psychological problems and the promotion of promise.”
I also gave Professor Comfort the opportunity to respond via email. He said quote
The vast majority of unshared environments have what Plomin calls “random,” “unsystematic” causes. That doesn’t make unshared environments unimportant; it just means they’re hard to study statistically. In human social behavior, few if any direct lines can be drawn from cause—whether environmental or genetic— to effect. We are shaped by subtle relationships, interacting variables, and big, unforeseeable events. The meaningful differences are individualized. Complex social behaviors are complex.
Professor Plomin once called this a “gloomy prospect.” But it’s only gloomy if you’re a social psychologist, because it implies that your research is never going to explain very much. The prospect is not gloomy at all if you’re a historian. Contingency, complexity, and context are our jam. I can explain more about social behavior with a timeline than he can with an algorithm.
There is no blueprint, Dr. Plomin. There is no crystal ball. There’s no ghost in the human machine, of course; it just has so many parts, and those parts interact with such spectacularly idiosyncratic, adaptive, buffering, nonlinear variety, that no statistical tool even begins to describe it.
The blueprint is not just bad biology; it’s socially dangerous. Historically, hackneyed metaphors for genetic determinism have misleadingly lent the authority of science to regressive social policies, from disadvantaging Black and poor students, to immigration restriction, to coerced sterilization. Polygenic scores do not solve that problem.
Also Dr Comfort believes that Dr Plomin basically ignored environmental factors because they’re impossible to quantify.
Nathan: Okay. Okay. And then take out the button, just say in social behavior, few, if any direct lines can be drawn from cause to effect were shaped by subtle relationships, interacting variables and big unforeseeable events. Those things. Do make a difference. They’re just hard to study with statistics because the meaningful differences are in fact individualized, right? That happened to me and only me, those weird, random unsystematic things that, the. Car accident. I was in, when I, when my mom was taking me to the nursery school or the, or the suicide of my best friend, or, whatever that aren’t, that are random and unsystematic, those shape us in really important way. Of course your upbringing matters. you just look at the ways, so I’m, in almost any profession, the years of education of your parents matter, the environment that you’re brought up in matters, if you come from an educator or academic household, you’re much more likely to go into academia than if not. certainly. And that certainly does not mean that an individual underprivileged person can’t make it in college. It means that someone. Is more likely if they have an educated, come from an educated background. And it’s just self-evident we all know how much it matters. if you grow up and your father or mother plays soccer with you constantly or is playing music around the house. from the time you’re born, you’re going to be more drawn to those things, the evidence is just absolutely overwhelming.
Our environment can actually affect how our genes are expressed. Before we get into that I want to wrap this debate by saying that I believe Dr Plomin has purely altruistic intentions. He’s a brilliant and deservedly respected researcher. The problem is it’s an extremely difficult subject to navigate, so it deserves a high level of critique.
Alright we’ll get into polygenic testing, epigenetics and crispr, right after this quick break.
Here is Dr Zeba Wunderlich, she studies gene expression at UC Irvine. She’d like to raise awareness about food insecurity on college campuses. You can find more info and donate at basicneeds.uci.edu
Dr. Wunderlich raised some interesting things we need to consider when studying genetics.
Zeba: the question is like in terms of why we might want to figure out this genetics, I think a good question that human geneticists often bring up when they think about their work is to what end are we doing this work? So if we figure it out, What does that imply for, public policy or how people perceive their genetics? And so I guess the question is also even if we had some genetic component to. Whether we would be good at chess or something like that. what would we use it for? Cause I would assume that we could still, we want to live in a place where even if you’re not genetically disposed to be the best at something that you could still do it and that you would still have choice over it because maybe you’re really genetically predisposed to be excellent at something, but you don’t like it. And so I think that’s, a question. That people who work on human genetics often struggle with or wrestle with before designing their experiments, which is if I were to find a genetic component to X, like what would that imply for the human population?
Another major concern is the privacy of your genetic information.
Zeba: And could it have some negative repercussions, which is something that people have frequently thought of, the health dimension, right? Because if you do genetic testing, there’s a high expectation that information should be yours. and to choose with whom you share it with. So should your employer have access to that information? Like what if it influences their decision because your healthcare is going to be expensive or something like that. And so I think that, We have to wrestle with these questions of what we would do with the information, because even though in an ideal world, it’s yours and it would be private, the reality is that it may not be all the time. And then what does that imply for? what could happen down the road if someone had access to that information?
One of the best examples of this was the use of genetic genealogy to identify a man known as the golden state killer. He was responsible for at least 13 murders and 50 rapes and had evaded capture for 45 years. While everyone is glad that the killer was caught, the way that he was is potentially alarming. One of his relatives had uploaded their genetic information to an open source database called GEDmatch which enabled investigators to identify a common ancestor.
So not only does your genetic information become public if you use the database, people who never consented to it become public as well.
Another interesting subject to consider is instead of dividing traits into 2 distinct categories of nature or nurture, maybe the environment influences how our genes are expressed. This is known as epigenetics. One way this works is by DNA methylation which can alter the expression of a DNA segment.
A study was done by Michael Meaney and colleagues on the interaction between mother rats and their babies. Some mother rats groom their babies more than others. These well groomed babies grow up to groom their babies more.
The significant discovery was in the results of cross fostering. So when babies from low grooming mothers were given to the high grooming ones, they grew up to groom more, and the opposite was also true. The effect took place in the expression of an estrogen receptor.
It may even be possible for these epigenetic influences to be passed down to children but there’s a lot more research needed on the subject.
Now let’s shift focus to another emerging field of genetics…
If you had the power to change anything about yourself… would you do it? What would happen if everyone did?
Because that’s the question humanity is about to face.
In 1987 scientists first noticed an unusual repetitive dna sequence when studying bacteria. However there wasn’t sufficient data at the time to predict what the function was.
Crispr stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It uses a protein to edit DNA.
60 years ago computers were the size of a whole room. Now everyone has one an order of magnitude more capable and it fits in your pocket. We’re still in the relatively early stages of gene editing but make no mistake this technology will change the world.
We’ll be able to do everything from cure diseases to create genetically superior embryos.
In vitro fertilization was criticized for creating life in a petri dish but now it’s commonplace and we even genetically screen embryos for abnormalities.
One step further would be to fix them. While we’re doing that why not give them better eyesight and make them taller.
Is there a line we shouldn’t cross, and if so where is it?
I spoke with Dr. Diahann Atacho, a postdoctoral scientist at Lund University department of experimental medical sciences. She uses Crispr to do research in neuroscience and stem cells. She’s trying to figure out what makes us human.
Dr Atacho: The human genome and the chimpanzee genome are almost identical. And when you look at the protein coding genes, they’re like 99% of them are basically the same. So then the question is if. Our protein coding genes are so similar. Then how come, we and the chimpanzees or so different, we’re building countries and States and nations, but the chimpanzees are still using rudimentary tools in their daily life.
Dr Atacho believes that the difference is in non-coding rna. She uses Crispr to stop their expression and studies the effects.
I was concerned about some of the potential negative possibilities of Crispr, specifically terrorists using it to create viruses.
Dr Atacho: Yeah. potentially they can CRISPR viruses, you can CRISPR anything.
Yeah. isn’t that something that just seems like it’s something that’s really accessible to people for like at all. So it is low costs, but with low costs and meaning it only costs me in the lab, approximately 30,000 euros to run an experiment. I can’t believe in going into this, but it would have to be government run facilities that would have to sponsor this. It’s not just any, Just, like group somewhere.
So Crispr is not currently as accessible as I thought. And it makes the work of scientists like her, much quicker and therefore cheaper to the taxpayer.
I was also concerned about it being a slippery slope eventually leading to designer babies.
Modifying embryos is considered a hard line because these changes are passed down to future generations.
Ethics aside it’s incredibly risky because errors could result in new diseases.
It’s illegal in many countries but no international standard for regulation currently exists.
In fact, in 2018 a Chinese scientist performed gene edits on embryos using crispr in an attempt to improve HIV resistance.
Dr Atacho: I think after the Chinese scandal, like our, of politicians and policymakers, as well as ethical boards of universities, woke up and we’re like, okay, we need to regulate this better because no scientists, no matter how crazy we can be, wants to be associated with doing something that’s unethical and bad because we’re in science. For the, that’s very, very cliche, but for the purity and for the beauty of it. Sure. We don’t want to do unethical stuff. Together with policy makers and, ethics committees, philosophers, et cetera. A lot of universities and countries are working together to make a comprehensive assessment of Oh, where should we put the limit? What can we do? What can we not do? And like I said before, I think for someone to harness this in an evil way, it cannot be done on like a terrorist group level. It would have to be state sponsored. And I think. At that level, that’s like way above my pay grade, but I would hope there is someway to intervene.
Crispr is a very exciting advancement that I feel optimistic about. However like the case with nuclear reactions it also has the potential to do great harm and therefore needs to be carefully regulated by an international body.
I want to wrap these first 3 episodes up with some sage advice on raising children.
Zeba: When I. Talk to my kid. I emphasize a lot about trying new things and practicing stuff. And, if he shows that he’s practiced something a lot and gotten a lot better at it, I try instead of praising like the achievement of being good at something I’ve praised the effort. For you worked really hard to get to that point where you’re good at this thing. And so I think that, praising the effort and emphasizing anything that, we work on is, practice is basically what makes perfect and what makes us good on things. And I think that’s something that like, I hope he takes to heart, which I think you guys, because sometimes when I’m working on something and I tell him it’s hard, he always tells me I can do it. So I think that is something that I try to do also at home. and I think it works with, people, honestly, of any age from young children to adults.
Nathan: Read to them, take them outside, let them experience the world and let them make mistakes and encourage their abilities. Gently read your kid. Listen to your kid will probably tell you, what he or she wants to do and try to provide that in a way that’s not too overbearing and in it right now. The genetics, unless you have a very good understanding of probability, looking at the genetics is probably going to be more misleading than helpful.
Plomin: There’s only so many 10,000 hours in a childhood, So are you going to focus all of that and focus your relationship with your kid on that one thing? I don’t think that’s a good strategy as a parent, so I really fundamentally disagree. And the goal isn’t to be the best at everything. Is it, the goal is to find out things you like to do. It’s enjoyment rather than, just being the best at things. Cause only one person can be the best and that’s a pretty bad odds.
I’ll finish with this quote from Dr Plomin’s book blueprint.
Parenting is not a means to an end. It is a relationship, one of the longest-lasting relationships in our lives. Just as with our partner and our friends, our relationship with our children should be based on loving them, not changing them.
Next week will be christmas eve and we have a very special bonus episode for you on the psychology of gift giving with Professor Jeff Galak. I have so many questions to answer, and a ton of really interesting topics to cover. So please subscribe to the show, because I’ll be back next week, with another episode of Prodigy.
Prodigy was created and produced by me, Lowell Brillante. The polygenic score for Tyler Klang showed traits of an excellent Executive Producer. Music by Sebastian Phillips. Cover art by Pam Peacock.
Dr Robert Plomin is a respected and celebrated research professor at King’s College in London. Definitely pick up a copy of his book “Blueprint: How DNA Makes us who we are”
Professor Nathaniel Comfort is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and talented writer. He’s currently working on a biography of James Watson who co-discovered the double helix.
Dr Nancy Segal is an outstanding professor and the author of 6 books on twins. You can find more info at drnancysegaltwins.org
Dr Zeba Wunderlich is a very kind professor at UC Irvine where she studies gene expression. She wants to raise awareness about food insecurity on college campuses. You can find more info and donate at basicneeds.uci.edu
Dr Diahann Atacho is a brilliant postdoctoral researcher at Lund University doing very interesting research on what makes us human.
Very special thanks to Dr Brian Collin and Camille Dizon.