Genes R US — Race, genetics, biblical misconceptions and racism
Posted: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 5:00 pm
It amazes me how frequently, usually around Friday or Saturday, something happens to suggest the topic for the following week’s column. Last week was no exception. Today’s column will address several misconceptions, based on a lack of understanding of genetics coupled with a misreading of the Bible, that continue as a basis for racial discrimination even to this day.
Some genetic review is in order…
Human DNA is never mistaken for ape DNA, dog DNA, soybean DNA, and so on. Different species have their DNA “packaged” into a different number of chromosomes. Genes live in an orderly arrangement along the chromosomes; genes are the recipes used to make the proteins that orchestrate our physical attributes and the inner workings of our bodies.
Every human being is genetically unique, unless they have an identical twin. But even for identical twins, as their DNA interacts with their environment, identical genes will express themselves differently. That is why identical twins tend to look more non-identical over time and develop different diseases.
All humans are designed to have the same genes and the same number of chromosomes. There are tiny variations in the DNA composition of genes between people that account for differences in how we look, some aspects of our personality, and so on. Skin color is a genetically complicated attribute of a human being. There are at least seven genes (probably more) that tweak our skin coloring.
Those occasional DNA variations between any two people are typically described as less than 1 percent. Those variations have special names, like SNPs (single nuclear polymorphisms). One can have deletions in swaths of DNA or extra copies of chunks of DNA that have the potential to cause all types of problems.
We are created with the ability to adapt to our environment. When populations of people (or animals) are isolated from other groups over long periods of time and remain in the same geographical location, they tend to develop physical features that are indicative of that adaptation.
Adaptive changes in one feature, like lighter skin to increase the efficiency of creating Vitamin D with less direct sunlight, are often accompanied by unanticipated changes in other features. Since (a) DNA can be read from the left or right giving rise to different genes and (b) many physical attributes (not just skin color) involves multiple genes, this should not surprise us.
The bottom line is that even though we all have the same genes, those genes possess the biological (or genetic) wisdom to adapt or change in response to a whole host of things, including climate, geography, etc.
Three races are typically defined: Caucasian, Asian, and African. All these races have the same genes. However, there are some differences in the patterns of SNPs on various chromosomes that are very predictive of how we currently define race. Within racial categories, there are obvious differences, too. Although Native American Indians and Korean persons are both called Asian, we can easily distinguish between them.
Now contrast race to ethnicity. Ethnicity is about social mores, culture, and customs. Although if enough people don’t move around much we often can predict physical attributes, too, based on ethnicity. So we might say, “Swedes have more blonde hair and blue eyes than Italians.”
There is no difference in the blood types between the races. In our not so distance past any “drop” of any race, other than Caucasian, would have made that person a member of that other race. By those standards, I am Asian and the likelihood of Jesus Christ, being called Asian, is almost assured.
I get my Asian DNA from my father. The orange (light) shading on the lower half of his 5th, 8th, 10th, and 11th chromosomes show the Asian regions of SNPs.
One of the beauties of direct-to-consumer genetic testing is that one can see what racial admixture they really are. About 5 percent of those who classify themselves as 100 percent Caucasian, and who have submitted to direct-to-consumer genetic testing through 23andme, find that they have African ancestry unbeknownst to them. Like me, they look perfectly “white.”.
Some misdirected Christian groups believe that a condemnation from God, based on Ham’s inappropriate behavior towards his father, Noah, gave rise to the African race. But Genesis 9 does not say that Ham or his sons were black or even cursed. The “Curse of Ham” or the “Curse of Canaan” was used in the Middle Ages to justify serfdom and in our own American past to justify slavery.
Although vast majority of Christians would abhor any use of the Bible to support racism, unfortunately some really bad ideas take a long time to die out. And in some cultures it takes longer than others.
In summary, each race has the potential, given sufficient generations (or time) and isolation, to develop characteristics that we associate with other races. This comes from the inherent wisdom in our DNA to adapt an individual to his environment.
I marvel at the inherent wisdom in that codebook of life, called DNA. The fingerprints of a creator are all over it. I am grateful for the genomic technology to allow scientists to better understand the “fluidity” of race and rejoice in the diversity of life that is in His creation!
Nancy@ Nancy-MillerLatimer.com has worked in scientific research and development for 27 years. She blogs at NeuronalBeauty.BlogSpot.com
Published in The Messenger 2.29.12