TED Conversations

Ahmed Ben Yaghlen

Student, Youth & Science Association of Tunisia

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Does evolution destroy us?

Evolution occurs when a mutation is beneficial to survival right? Well with us humans, we have civilizations and surviving in our time means being educated and getting a job and making money. Well could the next stage of our evolution be us merging with technology to make us more efficient? Or on a scarier thought, could we create computers and robots that surpass us, take us all out, and those robots continuously build more robots that surpass the last in an exponential growth of inteligence?Could that be the future of human evolution?


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  • Jun 19 2013: That's a Lovecraftian statement to make. Although, our tendency towards terraforming and happenstance way of performing climate change detrimental to our own purposes seems to justify the negativity.
    98& of our DNA is junk, either turned off for the duration of our lives, or broken or damaged beyond repair. Yet, all these wasted nucleotides keep getting reproduced. It's needless, and maybe even cumbersome to the 2% that's useable. Among that tiny amount that creates us, a large number of genes does a disservice and harms our lives at every step of the way. Some directly causes deadly diseases like cancer and Muscular Dystrophy.
    What's more, over half of our DNA is viral. It's not even of primate origin, being collected over millions of years of plagues. Genetically, it's like we're a junkyard.
    Merging with electronics is already happening, first as tools and now as body parts to assist with transplants and prosthesis. For the first time in our species' history, actual "intelligent design" is at play. While I see so much that could go wrong, all of our worst efforts throughout history hasn't wiped us out yet. I'm hopeful for better days.
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      Jun 20 2013: It's a common misconception that 98% of our DNA is "junk." No geneticist ever thought that was the case; the term "junk DNA" was coined in the 1970s humorously, simply because we didn't know what the function of that portion of our genome was. Today we've learned a great deal about it, and we've found that if there's a "secret to life," it lies not so much in the 2% or so that codes for proteins, but in the remaining "junk" or non-coding portion of the genome.

      While the coding DNA is a like a blueprint, each gene ready to make certain proteins on order, it is passive, just waiting for orders. It turns out that the orders come from "the brains" of the genome, once smilingly called "junk DNA." Here are the regulator genes - many for each coding gene - that determine when other genes turn on or off, along with countless other subtle decisions in our bodies that serve to guide development and maturation, and to maintain homeostasis and health. It's precisely on this regulating part of the DNA that much of the most exciting research is now being done in biology, and several recent Nobel prizes have been given for this work. Never again will this be thought of as "junk," not even jokingly.
      • Jun 21 2013: I'm clearly no geneticist. I appear to have put my foot in my mouth again. Can you forgive me?
        I used the term “junk” colloquially, which doesn't make it any more justifiable. TED gives us a small word count, so I generalized. Although my level of expertise is lacking, it's probable the term fits some DNA in a narrow sense, even if it casts to broad a shadow over the noncoding 98%. In the brief window of time I've used to research your comments, I've found we could surgically remove pieces of our genome and still be fully functioning humans. (I won't volunteer to be the first guinea pig in that experiment!) Whether it's a mere 1% or a whopping 20% or higher, I can't even begin to guess.
        I see that the Japanese-American biologist Susumo Ohno coined the term because he felt the bulk of our genes were being duplicated needlessly, as if it hindered the most vital parts. As you pointed out, our data has been updated significantly since then. So who has won a Nobel Prize about this? I would appreciate a book or online article recommendation, if you have one. The more dumbed down, the better. (And thanks for responding respectfully, I badly need the education!)
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          Jun 21 2013: No problem - this business of junk DNA has been a common notion. About the Nobels:

          It started with Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1983 for discovery of transposable elements in genes, non-coding elements that have been shown to have a regulating function.

          Some later Nobels in the same category are:
          1993: jointly to Richard J. Roberts and Phillip A. Sharp "for their discoveries of split genes"
          1995: jointly to Edward B. Lewis, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric F. Wieschaus "for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development".
          2001: jointly to Leland H. Hartwell, Tim Hunt and Sir Paul M. Nurse "for their discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle".
          2002: jointly to Sydney Brenner, H. Robert Horvitz and John E. Sulston "for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death'".
          2006: jointly to Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello "for their discovery of RNA interference - gene silencing by double-stranded RNA"

          I'm a biologist, but when I want to get a basic understanding of a new field I often turn to Wikipedia. I find most of their articles dependable and useful.

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