Advancement in science has been a boon for mankind in many ways. It has also led us into areas that have been detrimental to the human race in more ways than one. While nuclear science has provided solutions in medicine, energy and many other spheres, it has also provided deadly weapons for the transnational race in one-upmanship.
This may just be true even in the science dealing with the building blocks of the human body, DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid is the molecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms, including humans and viruses.
If and when the draft “Human DNA Profile Bill” of India gets through the parliament, it would resolve many issues in the world of the criminal justice system. With the help of DNA profiling technique, many may be spared jail terms. Others would be able to identify their loved ones amongst many mutilated dead bodies after a natural disaster. The stated purpose of the proposed bill on “Human DNA Profiling” is to provide opportunity for doubtful cases, where DNA testing can establish innocence or guilt. The bill proposes to utilise a “national DNA data bank” to maintain profiles under seven categories, largely on a voluntary basis.
The bill has been in the works for a long time. Finally, concerns about privacy and constitutional rights including the cost of the exercise have been put to rest by an expert committee headed by Dr. T S Rao.
That is just one part of the story of this enigmatic science. Indian scientists using this technology to resolve issues in the police, criminal world and the courts is the first step. After that, they may opt to venture out into the world of “Tinkering with DNA”. This can be used for producing taller, healthier, fairer and more intelligent humans or better yield in agriculture or horticulture. It is only a matter of time.
The world’s population is likely to double within the next four decades and over 90 per cent of births are likely to be in developing countries. This will increase pressures on the farms to produce more food. Decreasing fertile lands and water resources are already posing a challenge. Genetically modified plant technologies for higher yields are one of a number of different approaches that are being developed to combat these problems. Studies are under way to genetically modify plants to increase yields on the one hand and making them disease resistant on the other.
Huanming Yang is the Chairman of Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), the largest such non-government facility anywhere in the world. Addressing the 6th International Conference on Genomics in China in 2011, he said, “We are going to sequence every Chinese…I have a dream to sequence everything on earth…We are going to sequence everybody in the world…Genomics is an opportunity for all of us”.
The genetic basis of cognitive skills, IQ, has been the flagship project at BGI for many years. Young children are queued up for sharp, intensive testing and sequencing. The question is, what are the implications of the enthusiastic statement by Huanming Yang for rest of the world?
While we in India will be trying to use Genomics to resolve our petty crime in the courts, China plans to sequence “every living thing on earth”. And to what end? Young scientists at BGI are working towards unravelling the genetic secrets of highly intelligent people.
Obviously, the next steps will be to tinker with the human genes and sequence them to produce smarter and more intelligent long-living humans in the future.
The Chinese investors have already funded BGI-Europe at Copenhagen in Denmark as their European research hub. The American psychologist, Robert Plomin, has joined the BGI’s IQ project by providing DNA samples of 2000 highly gifted Americans for DNA sequencing in China. When Prime Minister Modi visits China later this month, he could well initiate a dialogue with President Xi Jinping for a collaboration with Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) for furthering the agenda of the Indian human DNA profiling initiative.