Is modern medicine damaging the gene pool?

06 September 2016


People are alive today thanks to modern medicine preventing them from dying otherwise. Is this affecting the fitness of the human gene pool?


Kat Arney gave us her expertise on this one...

Kat - That is a great question. You have to be very careful because there is a word for trying to engineer the human gene pool. It's called eugenics and it doesn't really ends terribly happily. I've been talking to some people about this and they say, well, you could argue, yes, it's bad for human evolution if you're keeping these things in. but at the same time, you're keeping a whole load of other stuff in as well that might be useful." So, as we have to adapt and change to the changing conditions and the changing world we're living in, there might also be some good stuff in there as well. So, it's very difficult to look at one gene or one disease and say that's not good for our gene pool. But what's really interesting is that it used to be, when you'd look at families with genetically caused diseases, things like - breast cancer is a good example, if people have the Angelina Jolie genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. You could track families with the disease and look at people with the disease and go, "Okay, you've got that gene fault. That's what caused it." but now, we're starting to look at healthy people because genome sequencing is so cheap now and finding that they have "bad" gene variation or gene faults, but they're healthy. They're fine. People tend to call them genetic superheroes. It's absolutely fascinating trying to work out so what else is it in their genome that is causing them not to be ill? So again, it's like when we're thinking about kind of screening out or getting rid of these genetic diseases that we may be losing other things from people that actually have these variations but are healthy. Andrew.

Andrew - And also, for some diseases, it's entirely futile because they're spontaneous mutations anyway. So they may be genetic once it appears in the population but things like Huntington's will appear even if you haven't got a parent with it sometimes. So, you can't entirely remove them anyway.

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