Nobel laureate says “improvement” of human species will not come through genetic manipulation


Sydney Brenner, biologist and winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for Medicine, says many of the current attempts to “improve” the human race through genetic manipulation are “ridiculous” and he called for focus on a more effective and lasting instrument: culture.

Dr. Brenner, who helped 1962 Nobel laureate Francis Crick to decipher the genetic code, said in interview with the Swiss newspaper “NZZ am Sonntag” that “current attempts to improve the human species through genetic manipulation are not dangerous, they’re ridiculous.”

“Suppose we want a more intelligent man.  The problem is we don’t exactly know which genes to manipulate,” he explained.

Brenner added that “there is only one instrument to transform humanity in a lasting way and that is culture.”

“I explain it like this:  the human brain is more powerful than the genetic patrimony.  Therefore we should concentrate more on cultural evolution, something whose functioning we do not yet know,” said the 77 year-old scientist.

”The important thing is to ask ourselves these types of questions instead of insisting on genetic magic,” he added.

Brenner said the differences in the genetic codes of distinct organisms are very minute.  All animals and human beings share the most important genes.

”We don’t know where the differences are in the codes, but there are no specifically human genes.  There is nothing more foolish than to say as some do that we have found the gene that allows us to speak,” he said. 

”I jokingly respond that I have also found the gene the makes us get fat and it is none other than the one that opens our mouths.  Many people have a sort of ridiculous idea of what a gene is and what I can do,” he pointed out.

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