Vijay Babu Jayaraj

IT Analyst, Tata Consultancy Services Limited

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Artificially cascading knowledge from generation to generations through genes.

I am a layman to genetic engineering or neural science, so i might sound crazy, but anyway here is what i want to say. I used to wonder why carnivores animals eat only meat and not plants even when they were brought up in isolation, how herbivores animals distinguish right plant to eat amongst the various species of plants including the poisonous plants, why do creepers only creep and how do they learn to creep. I learnt that these information are present in their genes which are being transferred from generations to generations. This transferring of such information through genes is the vital element for evolution. I do not know which part of the gene stores such information and how much capacity of information it stores, but if we can identify that part and find a means to artificially add extra information like knowledge about science into it, then the future generations will know scientific facts and theories right at the time of their birth itself. I do not know whether it is plausible, but i wish it is to be so.

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    Aug 26 2011: There are several degrees of abstraction between the way genes are expressed and what they code for. A herbivore knows not to eat a plant through a combination of things. There is no particular gene loci that says "don't eat that plant". It'll be much much subtler than that. Coding scientific knowledge would be a garguantuan task and those genes may impede on other genes. Say if for example you were to make this knowledge emerge by the way the genes formed the brain, that would inevitably lead to brain impairment. Education is, in comparison, a much easier and cheaper way to get information stored in our heads.

    What scientists have done on the other hand is used the 4 base DNA structure to code in messages inside synthetic organisms. Just like we can store information in binary (computers) we can store information on DNA (although not in a form that mRNA could translate into proteins).
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      Aug 30 2011: Just because it's garguantuan doesn't mean we shouldn't go for it.
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        Aug 30 2011: What about if it's also pointless given the relativity of knowledge and the availability of much much more effective ways of recording information? Where would you even start? Information in DNA isn't bundled up the way it is in a computer, you don't get continuous data. Besides, you have to take into account the important environmental factors that play an important role in the development of such a thing as the brain. People get carried away with analogies, the DNA/computer code analogy is a superficial one.

        Also good luck testing it out on humans without incurring the wrath of all manners of people who care more about ethics and morals than carrying a senseless project for the sake of it. Unless you were under the impression that this is the kind of thing that'd be so easy we'd get it right the first time.
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          Aug 30 2011: Thanks Matthieu, but nothing is pointless unless we dont get any value out of it. Be it, there are various other effective ways of recording information, but there is nothing wrong in trying differently. Haven't we started to search for valuable minerals in other planets although we haven't exhaustively searched on our own? We need not have to compare a DNA with a computer, but atleast let us understand them in the way they are. You may be right in saying that environment plays a role in the development of the brain, but i am afraid it has no role on the instinct one experiences. Even if it is, it is not yet been proved. You know that nothing is going to be tested on humans directly. Yes, it is a matter to be debated on ethics and morals, so were many scientific inventions at the time of their invention. I do agree with you on one point that it is a gargantuan process but let us not get intimidated by that.
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        Sep 1 2011: @Vijay: Pointless in the colloquial sense of the word. I am all for understanding genes the way they are. I bet if you did, you'd understand how far-fetched your proposition is. Environmental factors have many roles to play in the expression of instincts. You fancy yourself an expert in the matter all of a sudden?
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          Sep 1 2011: Hi Matthieu; like i said i am a layman on this subject, and i think you know that i had already proved it. I am happy that you are for understanding the genes the way they are.
  • Aug 31 2011: Vijay,

    What you are suggesting could lead to the extermination of the human species. Our brains and bodies are learning machines that adapt to the environments in which they are born. As technology advances, do we need to remember how to build a lead roof on a cathedral, hand make a barrel, or carve wooden utensils? There are not that many people who remember how to use the full suite of DOS commands from 30 years ago, and why should we remember?

    Today, the half life of medical knowledge is less than 2 years. That means that half of what was understood to be true 2 years ago is now obsolete. Why would I want that obsolete information encoded in my genes? You look like you are a young man, the IT world will not look familiar to you in 25 years...Imagine how it looks to me, I have been in it for 40 years!

    An interface that enhances the learning of current information would be great, but encoding data in our genes would be a waste of time.
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      Sep 1 2011: If we can manipulate the genome, we have become immortal! This is the ultimate goal. We'll merge with computers & have the longevity of the universe to work-out the bugs. Scientist have already successfully copied the genome of a cell. IBM managed to create a processor that may "think" one day. Science never goes backwards. We are always advancing... Even when we make mistakes.

      We may live (much) longer than the universe if the fabled "black hole engine" is ever built. Provided a huge asteroid doesn't hit our planet within the next 400 years. We'll probably be good & immortal by then!
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      Sep 1 2011: Hi Don, today we haven't fully understood the genes. We do not know whether there is space in genes to add more information. I think understanding the genes, having a complete control over them and to find ways to manipulate them to get the expected result of what we want might take more than 200-300 years, and who knows, what i have wished for might be the very need of mankind. Please share your idea of what the human need might be after 300 years in the below link:
      http://www.ted.com/conversations/5369/what_might_be_the_human_needs.html
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        Sep 2 2011: You don't add informations to genes, you add information to the genome. Gene is just a word for a functional unit of DNA. It's possible to do, nature did it over the course of 3 billion years.
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    Aug 26 2011: That place is called the "epigenome." It's a relatively new discovery.

    I actually just had a rather lengthy conversation with a fellow about this exact topic on another thread.

    http://www.ted.com/conversations/5024/human_brain_data_storage.html

    If it's possible, we will know pretty soon!
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    Aug 25 2011: I won't say it is impossible. I think the progress of human knowledge in the last century proves that nothing is impossible. But I wonder it that would be a good thing? The beauty of the childhood lies partly in the lack of awareness. And even if we would construct a child preloaded with human knowledge it would still be born mentally developed as a newborn. I don't think its a good combination.