April 12, 2010

Francis Collins
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

J. Craig Venter
J. Craig Venter Institute
La Jolla, California 92121

4 Crinan Street
London N19XW

NATURE has indicated (The Human Genome at Ten NATURE vol. 464 no. 7289 April 1, 2010 page 649) and you both agree (Has the Revolution Arrived, Francis Collins page 674 and Multiple Human Genomes Await, J. Craig Venter page 676) that great things are expected from knowledge of the human genome that you both worked out but that benefits to humanity are so far less impressive than had been hoped.

I am reminded of the invention of the laser.  For a long time it was called “the solution without a problem.”  People were looking for the great “killer application” that would bring the laser into its own.  In fact what evolved was a host of excellent applications.  With some justification one could now call the human genome a solution without a problem and the multiple excellent applications are being sought and slowly found.  But there is in fact a killer application that is within your easy reach.

The fact is that if people want babies they need to marry kin, and I mean partners who are kin down to an extraordinarily close degree.  And by the time you get out past sixth cousins it is unrealistic to expect two children. 

The superstition is that the more diverse the gene pool the better.  But there is ample scientific evidence that this is simply not true.  And that which is believed in spite of readily available evidence is superstition.  For the short course go to nobabies.net and look at the March 25, 2010 entry.  Then comb through the entire site.  Become convinced that this is absolutely true.  Take your time.  There is nothing else you could possibly do that is as important. 

It is important because the developed world has not been able to produce enough babies for long term survival now for a generation, and the rest of the world is sliding down the same banister.  This is, without hype, simply the biggest health problem the world has ever seen.  It is probably the only chance of extinction we have ever faced … no not faced.  We are not facing it.  We are sticking our heads in the sand.  And when everybody else sticks their heads in the sand the view gets kind of tedious. 

Someone has indicated that at some time in history humans went through a genetic bottleneck and were reduced to such small numbers that exinticiton was a real possibility.  But since such calculations do not now take into account that NO large gene pool (it appears that the number is something like a thousand and maybe a very few thousand) can survive indefinitely.  Frankly I doubt that bottleneck in reality indicated a census of all humans who were alive.  It is only a census of those who contributed to our one gene pool.  In short we are faced with extinction for the first time.

No babies, no future.  Simple as that.  Your glory, your accomplishments, your wealth mean nothing if there are to be no babies.

I can tell you what would work.  This is not my agenda, I describe it only because something definitely could work.  Imagine many villages, between a hundred thousand and a million of them, representing the cultural and genetic wealth of our species.  Limit the size of each to 100 families.  These villages are protected and nurtured by the rest of society.  And they will be fertile.  Small villages always are.  As numbers exceed the carrying power of the village, those who have not found a spot can choose between remaining celibate and moving out.  They can go anywhere.  And there will be cities just like the ones we have now.  And just like now, they will overall not produce enough babies to survive on their own.  Cities never do. 

Such an arrangement would be stable, would intrude on no ones freedom since one could always opt out.  And it would permit the survival of a literate society indefinitely.  Our current pattern, while being far from a random world wide social pool, will not permit our survival.

The question is how to get from here to there.  We do not have those villages.  We cannot make them because nobody really knows who is kin with whom (bar Iceland and the British aristocracy). 

Enter, with a flourish of trumpets, the human genome.  It is easily within your grasp to sort out how kin two people are by comparing genomes.  It is possible, but a bit trickier, to know what the implication of a particular match will be in terms of fertility of the couple and of future generations.  Then you can devise a way to get from here to there.  Along the way I hope you figure out a better way to make this work than my own; that was just a way of insisting that there is a solution and we had better get onto it.

Or perhaps we don’t care.  Perhaps we are happy with going extinct.  I could live with that, were it the informed choice.  I cannot live with it if it is to be the result of a choice made in ignorance.

Good luck.  Let me know if I can help.  Please let me know what you think.


M. Linton Herbert MD    

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