The Human Genome

UC Irvine’s Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, John Avise, recently published a book about imperfections in the human genome. His book, “Inside the Human Genome,” both examines flaws on the genetic level and tackles other major issues, including how scientific evidence of defects in the genome provides a counterargument to intelligent design.

Intelligent design, as defined by Avise, is “a religious movement whose proponents routinely claim that biological features were consciously engineered, directly, by a caring, supernatural God.”

Avise’s interest in the human conditions, amongst a myriad of other topics, led him to examine flaws in the human genome.

“Recently, especially in the last decade, many amazing and unexpected findings have come to light about the structure and function of the human genome. I wanted to summarize these scientific discoveries for a general audience. And it’s hard to look closely at the human genome and not see lots of obvious departures from the ‘optimal’ biological engineering,” Avise explained.

The book consists of an extensive review of the scientific literature available on human genetics. It has taken Avise about three years of library research to peruse through more than a century of effort by scientific research conducted by geneticists and evolutionary biologists.

In a recent interview conducted with Avise by Jennifer Fitzenberger at the UCI publicity office, Avise explicates why it is important to identify and understand these biological flaws.

“That’s what medicine is all about, really – trying to heal our bodies when things go wrong. It’s interesting to contemplate what the practice of medicine might look like a century or more from now. It’s quite possible that science will find ways to cure patients or maybe even our species of serious genetic disorders through molecular-level microsurgery on some of our faulty genes,” Avise told Fitzenberger.

From his book, Avise hopes people will learn about the structure and the operation of the human genome. More generally, however, he hopes people will come to recognize that evolutionary and genetic sciences can and should be viewed as a partner of philosophy instead of an inherent opponent of theology and religion.

As for his current project, Avise reveals that he is in the process of writing a book on hermaphroditic plants and animals; species in which particular individuals are male and female at the same time. He comments that this book will be a follow-up to an earlier book he published on clonal organisms that reproduce without sex at all.

In the meantime, Avise noted that “Inside the Human Genome,” will be available at the UCI bookstore or can be ordered online from www.amazon.com.