Relentless Genetics Review

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GATTACA’s dystopian vision of genome-based discrimination might seem overblown if we had genomic technology like that depicted in the film, but in fact, we already have tools that could allow for similar genetic panopticon scenarios. The current state of science has made possible rapid, accurate and cheap genome sequencing, genetic-wide association studies and precision gene manipulation tools such as CRISPR.

These technologies could conceivably be used for employment, insurance and a host of other purposes. However, the potential for societal abuses is troubling. For example, in the film, we see Vincent’s love interest Irene (played by Uma Thurman) effortlessly obtain and sequence his DNA. Such invasive and unjustified access to DNA would arguably be an assault on privacy and would have significant societal consequences.

Furthermore, current genomic technology allows scientists to determine a person’s genetic predisposition for many conditions, debatably including anti-social and aggressive behaviors. Such knowledge can be used for a number of unsavory purposes, and the fact that genomics is so interlinked means natural selection cannot optimize each trait. This leads to a condition called complexity catastrophe, described by theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman in The Origins of Order.

We can already see hints of this in the current controversy over gene editing and intelligence. Currently, computational scientists trying to reverse-engineer optimal gene networks are running into hard limits similar to the ‘travelling salesperson problem’ described by the mathematician Paul Erdös: ‘Even if one knows every city in a given set, there is no efficient way to arrange them so that the travelling salesman visits all of them in the minimum time.’


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