Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Designer Genes

There was a time when DNA meant, Does Not Apply. Now it conjures a world of cutting edge science which can nail a suspect, free an innocent prisoner or serve as a marker to identify a dreaded disease.

However a most recent application has me concerned. It comes close to the dangerous and discredited pseudo-science of eugenics. While the mapping of the human genome has demonstrated that we are 99% identical that other 1% has recently received a good deal of attention.

Some geneticists are linking race and even behaviors with certain groups after centuries of inbreeding. Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews share a particular Haplogroup E1b1b1 Y chromosome which traces them back to the North African Mediterranean and Near East region. However this same gene is found among Berbers of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

When Genghis Khan died in 1227 he had fathered so many children that today he is said to have sixteen million descendents. I’m sure Irving Kahn, the Kosher butcher, isn’t one of them.

To all this I say, So what? Is this really what the world is asking of us?; to find more ways of separation …….and worse. The latest speculation has us assigning certain smart genes to European Jews and the lack thereof among Africans. I don’t buy it. It is racial stereotyping one more time. It calls into question the quantification of intelligence, a far more complex set of factors than an I.Q. test is designed to measure; in fact the totality of brain function is beyond metric.

Am I alone in thinking that the pro-Semitism smart gene carries the whiff of being the flip side of anti-Semitism? Peggy, who is half-Jewish, can’t quite figure out how to operate the remote control ......but which half is that.......and which half writes her amazing poetry?

I know that most of my friends take exception to this but I contend that our identity can be known by how we act in our lives; our capacity for forgiveness, generosity and enabling toward others and ourselves and our reverence for the natural world. You may now send in your saliva to determine your tribe and which tent to sleep under. That says very little to me of the measure of a man.

We need to pay more attention to our children’s children than our father’s fathers. As we move to confront global challenges which transcend national borders how does it serve us to fix our gaze backwards? The issues are planetary and we must come together,as the poet said love each other or die.


  1. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Leonard Bernstein, Saul Bellow, to name a few, all shared European Jewish ancestry.

    Known as Ashkenazim, this ethnic group is blessed with more than its fair share of talented minds.

    But they are also prone to a number of serious genetic diseases.

    Researchers now suggest that intelligence is closely linked to such illnesses in Ashkenazi Jews, and that the diseases are the result of natural selection.

    The Ashkenazim are descended from the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria, Poland, and Eastern Europe that date back to the 10th century. Today they make up around 80 percent of the world's Jews.

    Ashkenazim have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group, scoring 12 to 15 points above the European average. They are also strongly represented in fields and occupations requiring high cognitive ability. For instance, European-origin Jews account for 27 percent of U.S. Nobel science prize winners but make up only about 3 percent of the U.S. population.

    But the group is also associated with neurological disorders, including Tay-Sachs, Gaucher's, and Niemann-Pick. Tay-Sachs is a fatal inherited disease of the central nervous system. Sufferers lack an enzyme needed to break down fatty substances in the brain and nerve cells. Gauchers and Niemann-Pick are similar, often fatal diseases.

    Researchers at the University of Utah's anthropology department investigated a possible link between these genetic illnesses and above-average intelligence in Ashkenazi Jews. They suggest both are the result of natural selection for enhanced brainpower.

    Because Jews were discriminated against in medieval Europe, they were often driven into professions such as moneylending and banking which were looked down upon or forbidden to Christians.

    Writing last month in the Journal of Biosocial Science, the researchers said, "For the most part they had jobs in which increased IQ strongly favored economic success, in contrast with other populations, who were mostly peasant farmers. They lived in circumstances in which economic success led to increased reproductive success."

  2. Here, here, Pops... I fully agree with your last two paragraphs. I, too, bristle at being categorized and labeled, as though that is all that I am. I thank you for teaching me to question such things.

    Bosworth von Grubble (try categorizing THAT!)

  3. Fred, my friend,since you are Jewish and therefore smarter than most you ought to be more aware of "scientific" srticles which preface every other sentence with the word "suggest." It's another way of saying that the "smart gene" is all speculation. Of course you may believe what you wish if you need to feel superior.

    As for the Nobel Prize that is a European invention heavily weighted toward the Western World. Look for a parade of Asians now that they have asserted themselves as sovreign nations no longer under the yoke of the Nobel-decorated West.

  4. The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-
    witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the
    simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if
    he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of
    doubt, what is laid before him.