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Should we worry about the future of the human gene pool? This question may sound like a throwback, something from the heyday of eugenics in the first half of the 20th century, when people dressed up their social prejudices as science and committed a variety of injustices and atrocities in the name of genetic purity.
So it is surprising to read a recent warning by a leading geneticist who says that the human gene pool may be in trouble. Writing in a major genetics journal, Indiana University biologist Michael Lynch makes an argument that sounds much like the claims of eugenicists a century ago: Because modern medicine has become so effective at helping people survive and have children, it has reduced the ability of natural selection to remove harmful mutations from the human population. If nothing changes, we can expect a “genetic deterioration in the baseline human condition” over the coming generations.
The problem starts with an important biological truth: Our genes are largely the product of natural selection. In other words, we, as a species, are who we are because of what happened in our evolutionary past: Individuals with less fit genes were more likely to die without leaving offspring than those with more optimal genes.
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