The film What Darwin Never Knew certainly delivered a multitude of information that I was only marginally aware of in terms of genetics and their influence on evolution. However, there was one portion of the film that I found to particularly pique my interest, and that was the segment related to the number genes we as humans actually possess (courtesy of information provided by the Human Genome Project). As the film states, there were estimates postulated by various scientific minds that ended up far exceeding our actual number, which is approximately around 23,000 genes. Ironically enough, this quantity equates to the same number of genes a chicken has, and totals far less than that of a plant like corn. In fact, to put it in simplistic terms, we share an incredibly similar number of genes to most animals within the animal kingdom. I believe the rather beautiful irony within this set of facts is what led me to be so captivated by this portion of the video (and the whole film in particular); we as humans tend to think we are far superior to the other organisms on the planet in most ways, yet it is incredibly humbling to know that we are all quite similar at our genetic cores with some subtle variations in the structure dictating the vast changes that we undergo once we surpass the early embryo state.
If anything, this revelation in the film made me vitally aware of how absolutely unnerving the idea is that with some alterations within the genetic coding of an organism, many physical variances can occur. In fact, I found that the information scared me quite a bit because it reminded me of a dystopian film I had seen that relied heavily on the concept of genetic engineering called Gattaca. In the movie, wealthy parents could implant (or prevent) certain genetic traits from developing in their children, which caused great strife among the economic classes that could not afford such a luxury. Thus, while I found the information incredibly informative and humbling for humanity for it shows how much we share at out core with other animals. I find the possibilities that modern genetic technology presents to be both exciting and intimidating at the same time. I am left with questions with unforeseeable answers, like: how much will strides forward in our knowledge of genetics influence our society? Will we grow more unified from these advances or will we divide further?
-by Corey Allen
National Center for Science Education http://ncse.com/
Image two: Okan Acini http://okanakinci.com/