2 diverse takes (items 1 & 2) on what the human genetic panorama (or the hype about it) reveals. While Venter's claims seem prefereable to Collins' (see item 4), is the real intention to open the way for more sophisticated genetic determinist claims?
1. The Death of Genetic Determinism and Beyond - Mae-Wan Ho of ISIS
2. GE fantasy shattered by human genome project?? - Dave King of CAHGE
3. Less is more: Our genes are subtler than we ever guessed - New Scientist
4. We'll create GM humans by 2020, says Collins - Telegraph
1. The Human Genome Map, the Death of Genetic Determinism and Beyond
Mae-Wan Ho, Institute of Science in Society, The October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester St., London WC1N 3AL, UK
The complete human genome map was announced just before ValentineÃs day . But it was an anticlimax for the proponents, despite much effort to keep up the hype. The scientists declared themselves ësurprisedÃ. The "book of life" turns out to have as few as 30 000 genes. Craig Venter, whose company Celera raced the publicly funded sequencing consortium to the finishing line, was the only one to read the implications correctly. The number of genes is far less than needed to support the extravagant claims throughout the past decade that individual genes not only determine how our bodies are constructed, what diseases we suffer from, but also our patterns of behaviour, our intellectual ability, sexual preference and criminality.
Facts of Life 
* The human genome has about 30 000 genes, twice as many as a fruitfly and 10 000 more than the simple roundworm.
* There are only 300 unique genes in the human (genome), which are not in the mouse.
* Forty percent of the genes are previously unknown.
* 113 genes have been transferred into the human genome from bacteria.
* There is no genetic basis for race, humans all over the world share 99.9% of their DNA.
* The 'complete' sequence is still riddled with gaps.
* The fugu fish has the most concise genome, it has no 'junk' DNA.
* More than 95% of the human genome is 'junk' DNA
* The coding regions for proteins occupy only 1.1% of the human genome.
* About 50% of the human genome are proviral sequences and transposable elements, many with reverse transcriptase.
* One of the most common transposable element, Alu, tends to cluster where there are genes.
* Chromosomes vary widely in the number of genes they contain.
* Most mutations occur in males.
* There are 250 000 proteins made by the 30 000 genes.
* The dog is 85% identical to a human in terms of genetic sequence and many of the 380 inherited diseases in dogs are similar to those in humans.
* There are more than four million genetic differences between humans found so far.
* 1 778 genes have been identified with diseases so far, from asthma to Alzheimer's
"We simply do not have enough genes for this idea of biological determinism to be right," said Venter, The wonderful diversity of the human species is not hard-wired in our genetic code. Our environments are critical." Many of us have been saying the same decades before the idea for the human genome project had ever been conceived of.
John Sulston, Head of the Sanger Centre in Cambridge in the public consortium, attempts to save face by appealing to ëexecutiveÃ genes that do very sophisticated ëmanagementÃ work. "What we are doing is to increase the variety and subtlety of genes that control other genes."  But that only leads us into the infinite regress of having to postulate genes that control genes that control yet other genes. What Sulston should have added, at the end of his sentence, is the phrase "that respond to the environment". Genetic determinism is dead, and has been dead at least for close to twenty years .
Worse yet, "Mapping the genome could be route to disaster", headlines another paper . Excitement in the drug industry could be short-lived, according to a report compiled by investment companies Lehman Brothers and McKinsey. The human genome project could be too big for the biotech and pharmaceutical companies to handle, and could bankrupt the industry. The "information overload" will cost much more than previously thought. The report draws on interviews with experts throughout the industry, and concludes, "Perhaps the most surprising and compelling discovery is that, in fact, genomics threatens to increase not only the associated research and development costs, but also the average cost per new drug."
I have referred to human genomics as "a scientific and financial black hole that swallows up all public and private resources without any return either to investors or to improving the health of nations". Now that the bubble has burst, it is time to take stock and seriously rethink healthcare.
The project to sequence the entire human genome has cost the public $3billion in the US and hundreds of millions of pounds in the UK. Now, scientists are telling us this is just the end of the beginning, and much more money is needed before the goods can be delivered in terms of miracle cancer cures, eradication of disease, genetic enhancement, gene therapy, personalised medicine and a prescription of lifestyle based on our genetic makeup. Indeed, the UK Government is investing at least £2.5 billion over the next five years to ëhuman genomicsÃ in a misguided attempt to identify all the genes that predispose the UK population to disease . That, at a time when our National Health is in financial crisis and research and development of other aspects of healthcare has been sorely neglected.
But even if the goods can be delivered against all odds, they will be beyond the means of the average taxpayer because private companies are aggressively staking out their claims on our genome. The pace of gene patenting has accelerated to a frenzy. Applications for patents in the US have gone from an annual 150 000 in the late 1980s to 275 000 today. In October last year, there were patent applications on 126 672 human gene sequences. By Feb. 2001, there are 175 624, a 38% jump . The US has granted patents for millions of SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) and gene fragments for which functions are unknown before it tightened the patent laws in December 1999. The human genome is already covered with dozens of times more patents than there are genes, because multiple patents are being granted over the same stretch of DNA. Such patents are seriously distorting healthcare and stifling scientific research and innovation .
Among the human genes and cell lines patented and sold by corporations are those stolen from indigenous peoples under the pretext of providing medical care, and even coercion is used. DNA databases of entire populations such as those of Iceland and Tonga have been sold to private companies. The Swedish Government is in negotiation with another company for the ‘ethical’ takeover of its population database, and the UK Government is planning to establish one of its own.
Some 740 patented gene tests are already in the market, and hundreds more in the pipelines. For cases where such tests can help to diagnose and treat patients, exorbitant licence fees have prevented them from being used. On the other hand, healthy people testing positive are denied employment and health insurance. Insurance companies in the UK can now require individuals to reveal the results of genetic tests. At the same time, prenatal and pre-implantation diagnoses are eliminating human foetuses and embryos carrying genes said to pre-dispose them to cancer as adults.
Governments are diverting large amounts of tax money into human genomics research which benefit the corporations. This is the real disaster for public health. For it has narrowed the options for healthcare and foreclosed other promising approaches. It is also a major distraction from the real causes of ill-health, which are overwhelmingly environmental and social, which will end up marginalizing and victimising those most in need of care and treatment.
Long before we were told there arenÃt enough genes to support the genetic determinist view, many scientists have concluded that there are no simplistic explanations for diseases in terms of single genes, because the action of each gene is modified and affected by many other genes. The connection between genes and disease becomes all the more tenuous when it comes to conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, schizophrenia, intelligence, alcohol abuse and criminal behaviour, where environmental and social factors increasingly predominate.
There are hundreds of variants in each of the 30 000 genes in the genome. Craig VenterÃs Celera has identified over 4 million single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs - variants of genes that differ by a single base. Each person is genetically unique, except for identical twins at the beginning of development, before they can accumulate genetic mutations independently. It is impossible, in principle, to give the prognosis for any disease for an individual, let alone predict his or her lifestyle based on the personÃs genetic makeup .
More than a decade of somatic ëgene therapyÃ has met with no success. On the contrary, there have been deaths and numerous adverse events, the causes of which remain largely unknown. Many hazards are already evident from existing scientific findings. These include immune reactions to GM constructs and creation of new viruses due to recombination between artificial gene therapy vectors and dormant viruses in the genome.
Nevertheless, arch genetic determinists and other prominent scientists as well as ëbioethicistsÃ are advocating human germline gene therapy and human cloning. They see the creation of a gene-rich class of human beings to be inevitable due to the free reign of the global marketplace. The rich will pay to genetically enhance their offspring, in the same way that they will pay for expensive private education. Consequently, there will be a genetic underclass - children of the poor - that will eventually become a separate, inferior species. Social inequity can thereby be translated into genetic inequity and vice versa. Fortunately, this genetic determinist fantasy will never come to pass. Unfortunately, it is fuelling the resurgence of eugenics and genetic discrimination, giving rein to the worst prejudices of our society.
The cloning of Dolly the sheep first raised the possibility that the same procedure could be used to create a human being. This met with universal opposition from citizens and governments all over the world. However, human cloning came back on the agenda as companies and their scientists pushed for approval of ëtherapeuticÃ human cloning, the creation of human embryos for the purpose of providing cells and tissues for transplant. In January 2001, the UK became the first Government in the world to pass a law that makes this legal, even though the available scientific evidence indicates that such human cloning is totally unnecessary and immoral . 'Human' clones have even been created, by transferring the genetic material of a human cell into the egg of the cow and the pig. Apart from the moral objections, such interspecific hybrids are well-known to result in gross abnormalities. Against this background, the international trafficking of human organs is already rife, and eggs and embryos will be added to the list. At least fifty women are needed to provide enough 'empty' eggs to clone a single human embryo. Advertisements for egg donors have appeared on the internet.
Another development is xenotransplantation, the creation of ëhumanisedÃ pigs by genetic engineering to supply spare organs and cells for transplant into human beings. This is so clearly a case of bad science and big business putting the world at risk from pandemics of viruses that cross from pig to human beings that it should be banned immediately .
All the developments in and around human genomics stem from the mechanistic paradigm that still dominates western science and the global society at large. Mary Shelley´s brilliant novel, Frankenstein, was not just a parable of the arrogant scientist playing God, it is also about mechanistic science out of control today, in pursuit of corporate profit.
The irony is that contemporary western science across the disciplines is rediscovering how nature is organic, dynamic and interconnected. There are no linear causal chains linking genes and the characteristics of organisms, let alone the human condition. The discredited paradigm is perpetrated by a scientific establishment consciously or unconsciously serving the corporate agenda, and making even the most unethical applications seem compelling.
It is high time scientists across the world free themselves from the corporate agenda, to work in partnership with the organic uprising from the grassroots, to recover and revitalize the holistic perspectives of traditional knowledge systems, to secure food and health for all.
1. Cited in "Men and women behaving badly? DonÃt blame DNA" Robin McKie, Observer, Feb. 11, 2001. See also "Gene code opens new fields of medicine" Tim Radford, The Guardian Feb. 12, 2001.
2. See "Genome project" The Guardian Feb. 12, 2001; "Unexpected bits and pieces" Henry Gee, The Guardian Feb. 12, 2001; "Genome discovery shocks scientists: Genetic blueprint contains far fewer genes than thought - DNAÃs importance downplayed" Tom Abate, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 11, 2001; "Analysis of human genome discovers far fewer genes" Nicholas Wade, The New York Times, Feb. 12, 2001.
3. "Mapping the genome could be route to disaster" Leo Lewis, The Independent on Sunday, Business, 11 Feb., 2001.
4. Ho, M.W. (1998, 1999). Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? Turning the Tide on the Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Gateway, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin.
5. Ho, M.W. (2000). The human genome sellout. Third World Resurgence #123-124, 4-9; also ISIS News#6, September 2000 www.i-sis.org/humangenome.shtml
6. "UK Government to establish population DNA database" ISIS Press Release 22 Jan. 2000 www.i-sis.org/ukpopdatabase-pr.shtml
7. "The profits that kill" Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, Feb. 12, 2001.
8. Regalado, A. (2000). The great gene grab. Technology Review September/October, 49-55.
9. Ho, M.W. and Cummins, J. (2001). The unnecessary evil of 'therapeutic' human cloning. ISIS Report Jan. 2001; ISIS News#7 www.i-sis.org/stemcells-pr.shtml
10. Ho, M.W. and Cummins, J. (2000). Xenotransplantation ? How Bad Science and Big Business Put the World at Risk from Viral Pandemics, ISIS Sustainable Science Report #3 August 2000 www.i-sis.org/xeno.shtml
2. GE fantasy shattered by human genome project??
So the human genome sequence, containing only 30-40,000 genes 'proves' that genetic determinism is dead. Dear, dear, if only We should learn to be more suspicious of such media fanfares, especially if their source is Craig Venter.
The fact is, that number of genes is utterly irrelevant to the question of genetic determinism. We can only get at this issue with methodologies (imperfect as they are) such as twin studies. Obviously one thing has nothing to do with another - if we're 98% genetically identical to chimpanzees then it's obvious that there's something much more subtle going on. It is a non-sequitur that because there are less genes than we thought (the number was only ever a guess) they must be interacting more. The caricature genetic determinist that the Natural Law Party [see 'GE fantasy shattered by human genome project'] and the media proclaim dead probably rarely existed in the first place. And if we believe in simplistic genetic determinism, 30,000 genes is plenty. But very few serious scientists have, for many years, and that doesn't stop them doing genetic engineering, including engineering human beings. They can still manipulate the system, and within their own narrow criteria of success, they often succeed. We should not delude ourselves otherwise.
So what's going on here? SPIN DOCTORING! If you have listened to them, you'll know that the medical establishment is terrified of a public backlash, similar to what we've seen with GE foods. And they've noticed that all the hype about the importance of genes, which is the standard fare of those journalists who've suddenly mysteriously discovered the opposite, amongst other effects like increasing biotech stock prices, also serves to exacerbate anxieties. You get films like GATTACA which scare people into believing that we might have a society where your future gets read off a genetic progfile on the day you're born, and people will be condemned to be part of 'genetically inferior' underclass. So for some time now the PR strategy of the medical an scientific establishments has been to dismiss naive genetic determinism. They get cheap brownie points by seeming to be liberal, and also help to calm down people's fears. All they've done here is to take another opportunity to advance this viewpoint. It is disgusting to see how much they're prepared to twist science to advance their spin.
In a separate interview, Venter gets more interesting: "If we're not hard-wired, if we're not just the sum total of our genes, this notion we can just go in and repair a gene and change somebody's personality, change their behavior, change a disease, is not worked out too well. I think pharmaceutics, the way we know them, is what's going to drive the treatments for cancer and other diseases: maybe more protein therapeutics, antibody therapeutics. But it's going to be understanding our physiology and coming up with new pharmaceutical interventions to modify cell behavior, modify cancer, modify heart disease. I don't think that's going to be cloning. It's not going to be designer babies. It's not going to be genetic engineering. These make great science fiction movies. But the genetic code and our first look at it says that's not how it's going to go forward." Apart from the explicit reassurance, what he's saying is that the future is not with scary new reprogenetics companies, as Lee Silver tells us, but with our old friends big pharma, who are solid and reliable and will give us even better life saving drugs. And who exactly is Venter selling his genome data to? You guessed it, big pharma. Apart from being fairly straightforward stockmarket manipulation, this is ideology in its old-fashioned sense, ie purportedly disinterested philosophical/political arguments masking a class/commercial interest.
In summary, there is a bona fide debate on the influence of genes and environment and scientifically the jury is still out. The answer does make a real difference to what we believe the genetic engineers and eugenicists can accomplish, and therefore how scared we should be. Liberals, the left and holistically minded sections of the green movement have long argued against genetic determinism with a kind of self-righteous obstinacy which has allowed them to take very little of notice of the real scientific facts. No doubt genetic determininsm as an ideology is wrong and pernicious, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some completely straightforward, fairly simple or only slightly complex genetic determinations out there. The way that the scientific establishment uses bullshit arguments to take 'our' side of the debate ought to alert us that we're being manipulated, and also ought to make us take a look again at the sacred articles of our faith.
3. Less is more: Our genes are subtler than we ever guessed
IT'S not how many genes you've got, it's what you do with them that counts. That's one of the key revelations about the human genome announced this week.
The first look at our genetic panorama, the result of a massive effort by both public and private groups, fills more than 100 pages in Nature and Science. "It's the first time we've stood back to look at the landscape of our own human biology," says Francis Collins, head of genome research at the National Institutes of Health near Washington DC. "It's a milestone of the highest order."
The nuggets that scientists are eager to find in this new territory are our genes, regions of DNA that are copied to make RNA templates for producing proteins. The most surprising revelation of the two reports is that our genes are rarer treasures than nearly anyone guessed. Ten years ago, most researchers predicted that our cells harboured about 100,000 genes.
But the two independent genome groups, using different strategies to sift through the sequence, discovered a mere 27,000 to 40,000 human genes. "The small number of genes has tremendous implications," says Craig Venter of Celera. "The fruit fly genome has only 13,000 or so genes, and we're so much larger and smarter that we thought we should have a lot more genes."
Also humbling is the discovery of 223 genes that our ancestors appear to have acquired directly from bacteria. This must have occurred when wayward bacterial DNA became integrated into the DNA inside the sperm or egg of a distant vertebrate forebear. Today, many of these genes appear to play a crucial role in our biology.
But about 22 per cent of vertebrate genes aren't found in worms or flies (see Diagram). In fact, vertebrates can lay claim to a certain amount of innovation when it comes to protein design, such as the invention of new structural elements that many proteins share. Our proteins also tend to have more complex arrangements of these elements.
But the secret of our complexity may lie not in the numbers of our genes, but how we use them, says Richard Myers of Stanford University. "A fine sports car and a junker may have the same number of pieces," he says. "The difference is the quality of parts and the sophistication with which we put them together."
For example, genes usually come in segments. By "splicing out" some segments of the RNA templates for proteins, or using one segment rather than another, a single gene can yield many different proteins. The same gene can be used to make one protein in, say, muscle, and another in the brain. Up to 60 per cent of our genes produce these "splice variants".
Another key finding from both public and private genome efforts is that many human "transcription factors" are unique and a cut above those of the fly and the worm. Transcription factors and other regulatory proteins dictate which genes are switched on at vital stages of development, as embryos form and organs take shape. It is they that orchestrate such amazing complexity from so few genes.
Venter thinks all higher vertebrates have roughly the same genes. What's important is when they are switched on and off, he says. "We have the same number of genes as cats and dogs, but differently regulated."
If we don't have as many genes as some hoped, no one can be disappointed by our vast collection of clutter. It turns out that the coding regions of genes fill a scant 1.5 per cent of our genome, while repetitive copies of "jumping genes", or transposons, claim about half our DNA real estate.
While transposons appear to be just junk, they may have helped us to evolve. Most are now inactive, but when they first arrived they were able to hop from place to place in our genome. This helped to rearrange the DNA in chromosomes, creating new genes. Indeed, one newly discovered transposon, MER85, appears to contain an active gene that is switched on in the brains of fetuses.
Our chromosomes also turn out to be remarkably variable. Genetic oases are often surrounded by vast geneless deserts. And Rogier Versteeg at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and his colleagues report that highly active genes are often grouped together in what he calls regions of increased gene expression, or RIDGEs, where the transcription of genes zooms along at 200 times the rate found elsewhere. "These are like factories just churning out RNA," says Versteeg.
Another property that is unevenly distributed through the genome is recombination--the exchange of DNA segments between pairs of chromosomes during the formation of sperm and eggs. James Weber of the Marshfield Medical Research Foundation in Wisconsin and his colleagues found that there are dead spots for recombination, as well as "jungles", where chromosomes switch pieces 100 times as often.
Nothing that has been found so far in the DNA sequence predicts where recombination is likely to occur. Another twist is that the preferred sites of recombination differ substantially between men and women.
A final enigma is how cavalier we are about where we keep genes. Most biologists had bet that the ends of chromosomes, or telomeres, would be gene-free zones because telomeres shorten throughout our lifetime.
But when Robert Moyzis of the University of California, Irvine, searched for genes near telomeres, he found 500 candidates. Puttingprecious genes in telomeres is like building homes on an earthquake zone. "I frankly can't come up with a good reason to do that," he says. Intriguingly, this suggests that some aspects of ageing could be caused by genetic changes triggered by telomere shrinkage.
The work is only just starting. "The important thing to realise is that some of us are already using this sequence every day to solve problems in biology," Myers adds. "And people will be doing that for decades, if not millennia."
4. We'll create GM humans by 2020, says researcher
By Roger Highfield
full article at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk:80/et?ac=000579381554028&rtmo=3SwHuSrM&atmo=99999999&pg=/et/01/2/15/ecngen15.html
MAN will take charge of his own evolution within a few decades, when it will be possible to produce genetically modified people safely and predictably, according to the director of the United States National Human Genome Research Institute.
Prof Francis Collins said humans are made up of fewer genes than was previously thought and by 2020 it will be possible to create GM humans with reasonable safety by "germ line gene therapy".
Within another decade, this would lead to a "chilling debate" about whether humans should alter their own biology. Prof Collins, one of the senior figure in the global effort to unravel the secrets of the human genetic code, was addressing senior scientists and politicians at the World Life Sciences Forum in Lyons.