BIOLOGY 103
FALL, 2003
FORUM 7

The Significance of Molecules: What Can/Should Be Done With Biological Knowledge?


Name:  abby
Username:  afritz@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-10-27 10:31:04
Message Id:  7005
Comments:
We talked about molecules and their tendency break apart and reform. Water molecules are constantly falling apart into two parts, H+ and OH-, and reconnecting to form water again. I was trying to think of this in terms of our idea of putting a living organism together (like our dog that may or may not bark!) by means of organizing molecules exactly so that we create a dog for ourselves. How much more complicated this new information that Professor Grobstein has given us makes our imaginary attempts at "building" a dog! It would be hard enough to organize the I don't know HOW many molecules to make a dog. But, then add in the instability of all of those molecules and we have quite a mess! It just makes me realize more and more how complicated living organisms are. The instability of the molecules within us somehow creates a stable, functioning, complex organism.
Name:  Flicka
Username:  fmichael@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  su-lyn's picture
Date:  2003-10-27 13:04:56
Message Id:  7008
Comments:
I found it interesting what Su-lyn and Brittany said about the different stages of life in evolution. I don't think evolution will ever stop until our time on earth as living things ceases. We measure our evolution by the amount of time that we know to have been in existence, so as long as humans still live, we will keep evolving and changing. There are also many differnet possilities that humans have not explored in terms of genetic combinations, so there is always room for exploration. But if evolution is a process of exploration, doesn't that mean that our creation could have a purpose but our evolution could not? And if that's true, could creationism and evolution actually live in harmony?

On another point, the comment by Brittany about consciousness involving more than one person.....It's a really interesting idea and I've been thinking a lot about it lately. I think that the ability to be conscious is something that we just have, like the "life essence" we were talking about before. It's not something you can describe, it's just there. However, the ability to be *aware* of our consciousness requires more than one person. In order to be aware of what you're thinking or what you're doing, you need someone else to *make* you aware of it. The only way humanity has a knowledge of the unconscious and the conscious is because interactions with other people have made their thoughts about the subject conscious.
But then, does that mean that animals are aware of their consciousness? It's true that animals have the "life essence" we've been dicussing and they do have other animals to associate and communicate with, but do they have the ability to be *aware* of their consciousness? hmmmmm....


Name:  J'London Hawkins
Username:  jhawkins@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Designer Babies
Date:  2003-10-27 15:43:23
Message Id:  7010
Comments:
People in the world are fucked up!
We have sickle cell anemia, are depressed, ridiculed if we are not deemed by society to be attractive, diabetic, schizophrenic, socially inept and the list could continue infinitely. If i had the chance to offer my offspring a better chance at life, a healthier life, a happier life, i would do it in a heart beat. I don't even think that this would create an issue with people percieving children not as "people" but as "commodities". In my opinion children already are commodities, ELLE listed "a baby" as this seasons "IT" accessory. Parents already are trying to create the perfect child, interviewing for elite preschools before the child has been conceived, sending children to ballet, french and music lessons at the age of three. I believe that we all want quality children for the sake of our own pride and joy, and being able to alter his or her DNA structure is simply a preventitive measure for the childs own good.

The only problem i see arising form this practice would be the cost. I am sure it would be extremely expensive, meaning that only the very wealthy could have perfect children. People with less money would only be able to pay to get some things corrected like harmful diseases. There by creating classes of people the PERFECT one, the nearly perfect ones, the not so perfect ones... sort of like some people would be Birkin Bags while others would be plastic bags from the grocery store. Some of us would be BURBERRY and others a moomoo from walmart. And i guess we could throw out the notion of "all men being created equal" because that would not be the case... and so we would be able to assert that some people deserve certain rights while others are not entitled to them because they are less perfect human beings. And it would be scietifically true...

Wait, never mind, this is getting a bit to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World... and we all know how that ended. This is also reminiscent of Hitler's goal to create a perfect race... and that was anarchy...
SCRATCH THAT... rrrrrrrr... I hate it when i contradict myself...


Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Username:  nkrimgol@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Designer Babies
Date:  2003-10-27 16:26:07
Message Id:  7012
Comments:
It's really interesting that human beings have the potential to alter DNA. It poses certain ethical questions, but I don't think anyone would deny the ethics or correcting genetic diseases. I wonder if altering DNA could even correct chronic depression. That would be novel. On the other hand, if we could correct everyone's "shortcomings", even those termed diseases, such as depression, or alcoholism, what would become of art? So much of artistic expression seems to be generated by troubled souls - people who have suffered - and not only that, artists tend to believe they experience the world in a way that is fundamentally different from other people, would genetic modifications, even having to do with diseases, tend to make us all more similar?
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Designer Genes
Date:  2003-10-27 16:33:05
Message Id:  7013
Comments:

J'London, you raise some really great points, and I think the contradictions point to some crucial issues that we're facing in deciding what to do with the power that science has given us. It hasn't changed what we want, only what we can now do, which puts us in a dangerous place. If there's one reason I'd welcome designer babies, it's the chance to start the human race again, this time with a gene for self-restraint.
Name:  Anna K
Username:  amarcini@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  On Bones, HIV, and the power? of science
Date:  2003-10-28 00:47:28
Message Id:  7021
Comments:
Speaking of the power of science...this weekend my boyfriend got triple teamed by Princeton rugby players during a playoff game and was sent to the ICU. The X-rays showed that he broke both his ulna and radius, as well as several bones in the wrist. Due to the shattering of the bone, the Orthopedic surgeon not only had to insert Titanium plates to fill the gaps, but because of the length of the gap the surgeon had to actually use bone from another source to fill it in. The surgeon said bone could be obtained from three places: 1, the hip (a small chunk would be extracted), 2. From cadavars, 3. Genetically engineered. It was no surprise that using the genetically engineered bone was the most expensive of the choices, but what was most intriguing was the risk associated with using bone from a cadaver. In some cases, there was a risk of HIV and bacterial infections. Why is this? How is it that 1., hospitals cannot check to see if HIV is in the cadaver, and 2., the virus is able to penetrate and thrive in the bone? It seems silly to me that with all the technology we have, we can genetically engineer bone for bone graphs, but we have no way of knowing if HIV has infected a bone from a cadaver before using it in a living human....
Name:  Patricia Palermo
Username:  ppalermo@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-10-28 16:40:01
Message Id:  7032
Comments:
Natalya Krimgold makes an excellent point. In fact, even without relating our shortcommings to ones that relate to depression or serious diseases, is anyone just simply afraid of a lack of diversity? I feel that from the many people I have met in my life, it has been the things about themselves that they considered to be their worst traits, that have built the most defining strengths about them. People truely are made stronger by having their own individual weaknesses. It is what helps us to be compassionate, moved by others, and open minded about alternative lifestyles. Although I do not have a terminal illness or any defining physical characteristic that I wish I could get rid of, I do feel confident in saying that at the end of a persons life, they would not feel as if their life would have had more value without those things. It very well may have had less. I would not wish to be genetically thinner, smarter, or have any other "designer gene" only because I do not believe that those things can bring you a better quality of life. Anyone who reflects on the skeletons in their closet, or the things about themselves that they are part ashamed of and part proud of would have to agree. I think the most similar we become, the more we all lose out. Our greatest oppositions serve as the best reasons for introspective thinking and strengthening of our own beliefs and traits. The world would lose so much more than art if we genetically improved ourselves.
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Username:  nkrimgol@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Thought Police
Date:  2003-10-28 19:19:43
Message Id:  7033
Comments:
Reflecting on our lab today makes me marvel at how mechanical we humans really are. For our reaction time experiment, my group tested to see if reaction times were quicker if the stimulus was closer to the brain - and they were! Our hypothesis was that it would take less time for the nerve signal from the stimulus to travel back to the brain if the stimulus was physically closer. It is remarkable to me that with relatively unsophisticated technology, we could observe differences in the time it took our brains to realize we had been touched. We would normally think of this processs as happening instantaneously. I was also amazed when Professor Grobstein told us that thinking burns calories. I wonder if it burns more if you're thinking harder. It's so strange that the mysterious processes of thought and emotion could be quantified in time and space - in chemical reactions. I wonder if you could chemically construct a thought or belief the same way you could hypothetically take Professor Grobstein's atoms and turn him into a dog. Could you make a pill or something that would give people the same thought or implant knowledge in their memories?
Name:  Stefanie
Username:  sfedak@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Re: HIV and the bones
Date:  2003-10-28 23:02:00
Message Id:  7034
Comments:
I never quite know what to say here in the forum, but as far as Anna's comment goes isn't it true that a person may not present with the virus for up to six months following exposure? Therefore, if John or Jane Doe had an encounter or exposure to the virus and then promptly kicked the bucket two days later it wouldn't be possible to ask he or she if they had had such an encounter. Questioning is an important method in discerning whether somone is at risk. Despite our advanced technology, a battery of questions is the most effective method in this case.

In addition, the virus load would be too small for even our "advanced" technology to locate the virus in its earlier stages. It would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. I also don't think that the technology for engineering the bone, and for locating the virus are really comparable either. But I could be totally off base about it...


Name:  Patty
Username:  ppalermo@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-10-29 13:18:15
Message Id:  7036
Comments:
I was wondering if there are genes for race? I'm sure there are genes that are associated with certain traits of people of diffrent races. Would people change there race if they could? That would be fascinating. That would be as amazing as finding life on a million other planets.
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  race & genetics
Date:  2003-10-29 17:39:48
Message Id:  7043
Comments:

There isn't 'a gene for' Chineseness just as there isn't a gene for aggression or a gene for self-restraint (re: the tongue-in-cheek statement I made earlier). Individuals genes don't correspond with individual traits. It is the way genes interact with each other and the way the environment triggers them that affects expression.

Although if I remember correctly, there was an interesting article that Prof. Grobstein mentioned early in the semester about racial differences becoming genetically significant. The article here.
Name:  J'London Hawkins
Username:  jhawkins@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Chemincal Thoughts...
Date:  2003-10-29 22:19:30
Message Id:  7044
Comments:
I really am hesitant to believe that a thought could be chemically constructed. We are taught in religion class that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The key word for describing His nature in the context of chemical thought is "OMNISCIENT", God is all knowing and yet he does not physically exist. Many of us beleive in "God", in his existence and also in the fact that he has power. He created the world with his WORDS, "let there be light" and logically speaking he had to have thought those words before he spoke them. But he isn't made of chemicals... we can't see his body let alone consider the possibility of deconstructing him and reconstructing in the shape of an elephant.
Furthermore, consider the axiom "I think therefore I am". This symbolizes to me some sort of life essence. Our thoughts define us. Thinking is the essence of life. Maybe our thinking is the life essence.
In conclusion, the only way one could potentially construct a thought is to have evidence that the thought ever existed in the first place. I have never been able to "hold a thought" to capture and recreate is as vividly, linking the mapping the and associating the same things together TWICE. If we humans can not "hold that thought" what makes you think that a scientist can bottle it?
Name:  Adina
Username:  ahalpern@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Chemical Thoughts
Date:  2003-10-31 12:54:01
Message Id:  7071
Comments:
In the hypothetical situation that we could create thinking individuals out of atoms, we wouldn't actually be placing thoughts in people's heads. We would simply be giving people the *ability* to think.
Name:  Katy McMahon
Username:  kmcmahon@bmc
Subject:  Chemical X
Date:  2003-10-31 14:36:09
Message Id:  7072
Comments:
This is in response to J'London's comments about thoughts being chemically constructed. My experience taking mood stabilizers shows me that medication has a profound chemical effect on my thoughts and emotions. I think anyone who uses drugs (legal or illegal), lusts after chocolate, binges, has PMS, or a variety of other things can say that it is quitely likely that our thoughts are chemically constructed because they can be chemically altered. I think that we have to remember that our minds do not exist independently of our bodies. Just as stress, for example, can affect the health of our bodies, food and anything else we consume affects our minds. Food and drugs are chemicals that react with chemicals already present in us to produce thoughts and things. I don't think that negates God, if that is what one believes in, because if God is omnipresent, then God is in all of those chemicals to begin with.
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  engineering thoughts
Date:  2003-11-01 00:07:12
Message Id:  7073
Comments:

"We wouldn't actually be placing thoughts in people's heads. We would simply be giving people the *ability* to think." - Adina.

Hear, hear! I don't agree with the mechanical way in which consciousness is being prescribed, with the idea that thoughts can be engineered. While there is probably a set of reactions that take place in our body whenever we process a thought and its associated emotions, etc., I doubt that inducing those same reactions will produce that same thought. It's the same objection to the assertion that genes correspond with traits in a simplistic one-to-one relationship.


Name:  Nomi
Username:  nkaim@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Eliminating Diversity?!
Date:  2003-11-01 15:31:35
Message Id:  7074
Comments:
I agree with Patty's concern over scientifically reducing and, finally, eliminating diversity. This raises interesting questions about the nature, and value, of pain relative to creativity and individuality. If we assume, as many do, that individuality is simply the flip-side of the coin of negative emotions -- that pain and uniqueness are woven together inextricably, the one affecting the other -- then it seems reasonable to worry that genetically eliminating all sources of "unpleasantness" will also destroy uniqueness. If you add to that the fact that certain features -- such as thinness, fairness of complexion, large eyes, and so on -- exist as "ideals" for most people (and certainly all the people rich enough to afford genetic modifications in their kids, themselves, or whatever), it really does appear we could end up with a bunch of carbon-copies living together. How inexplicably dull!

Also about pain -- many argue joy would not exist without it. We human beings need the contrast to feel anything at all -- all emotions are based on comparisons to other emotions. If we destroy the bad things, then, we'll also kill our ability to feel good. Ultimately (if human beings are around long enough, which is doubtful), we could end up as robots, with no emotions whatsoever. Without this ability to feel emotions, humans would wind up a very different sort of organism altogether -- more like trees.

And that's only emotions. What if sensations and thoughts also depend upon our minds' and bodies' comparing them to other sensations and thoughts? If we eliminate the bad ones here, will we eventually lose our ability to think and feel sensations, too? In this case, we humans would be less than trees. Mindless, Emotionless, we would also lack the basic ability to respond to sensory stimuli -- and even trees have that. All life is diverse and experiences diverse physical and psychical conditions. All of life responds to varying external and internal environments. And if those environments did not vary? If we got rid of our differences, and squashed this diversity of experience, what would we have left? Would it even be accurrate to call us alive?

All this is very extreme, and at the rate people move -- what with all the technical difficulties of interfering with the collosal complexity of the genome -- it won't happen for quite awhile. It may not happen at all, if our species dies off or gets diverted by something else. However, this does indicate the direction in which we are headed, and it's scary: though we'd all (probably) jump to free a person from cancer or lupus or mental illness, what about non-life threatening conditions like allergies -- where, oh where, to we draw the line?

Another strange thing I thought of is that by manipulating the genome, the science of medicine will be going in the OPPOSITE direction from where it has always gone before: toward sameness, rather than toward diversity. All of medicine's efforts to keep the sick and dying alive, to cure the formerly "incurable," has allowed many people to live (and pass on their genes) who would have otherwise died. If the normal process of natural selection had its way, without the intervention of medicine, many of those whom human technology has saved would have died, have been "selected out." Natural selection tends toward decreased variation, preserving only those "well-adapted" to life in their environments. Since medicine can "adapt" those who are naturally "poorly adapted," we have among us people with severe physical and mental illnesses who create art, teach us new things, increase our diversity of experience. Medicine has extended the array of human diversity, of human experience! But now -- in seeking to ELIMINATE the sources of our pain, rather than just TREAT them (as in the past) -- medicine threatens to destroy the variation that defines us. Our intentions, of course, revolve around pain, not diversity. But it's strange that our ways of dealing with pain can affect diversity from both directions.


Name:  Adina
Username:  ahalpern@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  thoughts
Date:  2003-11-02 11:32:20
Message Id:  7075
Comments:
In response to Su-Lyn's comment, I'm not saying that there is one biological mechanism that produces thought, and I am also not saying that different people do not react differently from each other in different situations. Any study of psychology will show that environment and experience have a huge impact on how a person will feel in/react to a given situation. There is also much variation in personality, but there is no saying that the nature part of the nature vs nurture debate is not biological. I'm just saying that the biological processes that cause thoughts occur in the body. Even experience, which greatly influences thoughts, is stored in the conscious or unconscious memory. The mechanism responsible for memory is in the brain.
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  the think switch
Date:  2003-11-02 14:57:13
Message Id:  7078
Comments:

Hmm, my earlier comment may not have made it clear that I was actually agreeing with you. I also think that the biological mechanisms that enable thought do not dictate thought. My gripe is not about your point, but about the notion that floats around in the forum (and that you countered) that biology is deterministic.
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Username:  nkrimgol@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-02 16:24:13
Message Id:  7079
Comments:
It occurred to me, (forgive me if this is obvious), that a hypothesis is really the same as a thesis for a paper. It's an idea that you posit and then you have to investigate the material further to see if it's true. Also, like a hypothesis, a thesis isn't really good unless there's a possibility that it's not true. A blanket statement is meaningless, the more room there is for opposition and controversy, the better the thesis, really.
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  somethingsomething-THESIS
Date:  2003-11-02 17:04:44
Message Id:  7080
Comments:

Except in a paper, you're out to support your thesis. As Prof Grobstein pointed out quite energetically in our first lab, that's a crucifiable crime if committed with a hypothesis.

Actually, aren't a hypothesis and a thesis different stages in what is essentially the same process? Argument, or rhetoric, I think. Hence also 'antithesis'. This is really not something I'm familiar enough with to comment on, but it would be interesting to see how the scientific process is broken down. Surely it's not all about the hypothesis.
Name:  su-lyn
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Hairless Humans
Date:  2003-11-03 00:08:23
Message Id:  7084
Comments:

An article from The Scientist on "The Hirsute, the Hairless and the Human". Reminded me of someone's comment about hairless humans in the forums before break.


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