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Thursday, December 15, 2005

"The Race Gene"

How interesting. Science has published an article by Zebrafish scientists Lamason et al 2005 (Science 310(5755): 1782-1786 -- you'll need access to Science through a college library or you'll have to buy the journal, since I'll get into copyright issues for posting the PDF on the site) that reports the discovery of the mutation in the human genome that may have led to white skin. Apparently the "wild-type" human is dark-skinned like those of African descent, and skin-lightening arose twice in the evolution of modern humans: once in the ancestors that led to modern-day Caucasians and once (not described in this work) in Asians. The mutation is in a newly reported gene slc24A5 which is believed to code for a cation exchanger (of sodium, potassium, and calcium). The single-base pair change is reported to correspond to decreased number, size and density of melanosomes, the melanin-containing organelles in melanocytes. In zebrafish, the C to A mutation converts a tyrosine (amino acid Y) codon into a stop codon resulting in a truncated slc24A5 protein product. Knocking out this gene in zebrafish led to the golden phenotype, while injection of the wild-type slc24a5 gene into knockout zebrafish led to a partial recovery (suggesting other mutations also contribute to the lighter skin phenotype). In humans, people of African ancestry have predominently an A nucleotide in the third exon of slc24a5 (the DNA sequence (NM_205850) and the amino acid sequence (NP_995322)) resulting in an alanine (A) at amino acid 111. People of European ancestry had predominently a G nucleotide at that position resulting in a threonine (T) amino acid at position 111. Another tasty tidbit: people of African and Asian ancestry share the "wild-type" alanine at position 111. The Washington Times has a great article on this finding. But, what I like most about the article is the cautionary note it includes against either concluding that race has great genetic basis or concluding that race has no genetic basis and therefore is unimportant. Here's my favourite quote from the article: Vivian Ota Wang of the National Human Genome Research Institute says, "You may tell people that race isn't real and doesn't matter, but they can't catch a cab". Race is not about genetics, it's about social inequality and disenfranchisment. As cool as this finding is, we must be careful not to conclude that we can therefore simply erase the effects of racism by pretending it doesn't exist.

3 Comments:

Blogger Karlos said...

"The mutation is in a newly reported gene slc24A5 which is believed to code for a cation exchanger (of sodium, potassium, and calcium). The single-base pair change is reported to correspond to decreased number, size and density of melanosomes, the melanin-containing organelles in melanocytes. In zebrafish, the C to A mutation converts a tyrosine (amino acid Y) codon into a stop codon resulting in a truncated slc24A5 protein product. Knocking out this gene in zebrafish led to the golden phenotype, while injection of the wild-type slc24a5 gene into knockout zebrafish led to a partial recovery (suggesting other mutations also contribute to the lighter skin phenotype).

In humans, people of African ancestry have predominently an A nucleotide in the third exon of slc24a5 (the DNA sequence (NM_205850) and the amino acid sequence (NP_995322)) resulting in an alanine (A) at amino acid 111. People of European ancestry had predominently a G nucleotide at that position resulting in a threonine (T) amino acid at position 111."

well, duh. i had sorta figured as much.

12/16/2005 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous normal2 said...

interesting post... here's what first comes to mind:

idea management in 4 simple steps

powerful ideas are often both obvious and carefully ignored by properly educated people. but sometimes a tactless person picks up one of these neglected powerful ideas and applies it to real life. powerful ideas are often (maybe even usually) contextualized and introduced into public discussion by the wrong people. this is potentially very dangerous. in order to correct this problem all potentially powerful ideas introduced into public discussion by the wrong people are...

1) ...routinely buried in an avalanche of criticism or are outright suppressed and/or dismissed.

when these routine precautions fail to remove a potentially powerful idea from public discussion the idea is then...

2) ...carefully wrapped in layer after layer of extremely unpleasant and offensive systematic hostility to the point where the whole topic becomes a virtual minefield that is too unpleasant for mild-mannered educated folk to spend much time in. at this stage it is also customary to research every other thing the unacceptable thinker has written or said and make their professional lives so unpleasant and difficult that smart observers will make a note to not do whatever the unacceptable thinker did lest a similar unpleasant fate befall them.

when these routine precautions fail to remove a potentially powerful idea from public discussion the idea is then...

3) ...considered sort of inevitable. the power of the idea is thenceforth established. at that point it is important to generate an alternative intellectual genealogy for the powerful idea. first of all old news and the obvious must become gee-whiz news again. then original thinkers who are unacceptably female can be replaced by male thinkers, nonwhites can be replaced by whites and zionists, leftists can be replaced by neoliberals etc etc. this is a crucial step in the process of idea management and if it is not promptly and seamlessly executed then dangerous intellectual backsliding into primitive savagery can occur.

after all this we finally arrive at the final step, the reward, the dessert:

4) now that the intellectual genealogy of the powerful idea has been properly cleansed, proper idea management can proceed. this is the joyful process that the new legitimate intellectual proprietors undertake to gradually adjust and neutralize the power of the idea that they are the proud new owners of. this is a long leisurely process spanning generations, carried out at a pleasurably slow pace. the process involves many sophisticated methods including but not limited to: 'deification of an intellectual father', 'conversion from dialogue to scripture', and of course 'concealing by complicating'.

12/16/2005 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous solitaire said...

Hey sis! I'm anticipating your Apprentice wrap up post... I haven't done mine yet. Still mulling things over and reading the backlash that has come about.

12/22/2005 10:54:00 AM  

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