AHB 101:  GENETIC DETERMINISM -- AND ITS FINANCIAL FUNCTION

Genetic determinism refers to the notion that genes cause physical appearance, behaviors, functions or diseases.   Originally, it posited a simple correlation of one gene equaling one trait.  By the time the molecular structure of DNA was first recognized in the early 1950s, genetic determinism was the dominant explanation for how genes functioned.   

Today, the once reigning orthodoxy of genetic determinism has been challenged by more complex observations and theories.  Environmental influences and "epigenetic" processes are recognized as important, if not well understood, agents that interact with genes resulting in biological phenomena.  With notable exceptions, the simple correlation of the "one gene, one trait" formula does not describe the complexity of living systems.  

Significantly, although scientific inquiry recognizes the limitations of genetic determinism as an explanative framework, biotech companies and their boosters often rely on the power of genetic determinist explanations when compelling funders and the public to invest in biotech.  That is, if genes can be identified and their functions attributed in plant, animal, and human species then we can expect to control them and in so doing cure every manner of disease and many social dysfunctions (e.g. the claim that genetically engineered crops will solve world hunger.)  The dependence on genetic determinism (and other simple stories of causality) by biotech industries when seeking financial backing results in "hype" which inappropriately raises public expectations, sometimes contributes to a premature rush to clinical testing (e.g. the case of Jesse Gelsinger), and trumps serious consideration of plausible "low-tech" solutions to social ills (see,"the Precautionary Principle") 

 

RECOMMENDED READING

Richard Strohman, "Genetic Determinism as a Failing Paradigm in Biology and Medicine: Implications for Health and Wellness," Journal of Social Work Education, 2003.

 

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