In 1993, an American biotechnology company and a French genetics lab developed a collaborative research plan to search for diabetes genes. But just as the project was to begin, the French government called it to a halt, barring the laboratory from sharing something never previously thought of as a commodity unto itself: French DNA.
Contemporary developments in human genetics are profoundly meaningful, both for the rapidity of scientific discoveries and for their personal and social implications. The Human Genome Project, a worldwide effort to map the 50,000 to 100,000 genes making up the human blueprint, is creating new ways of understanding ourselves as individuals, as parents, as members of a family, an ethnic group, a species. Almost every day yet another medical detective finds a genetic clue to the long-running mystery of human identity.
In 1992, the University of Iowa Humanities Symposium provided a public forum to examine the issues—moral, conceptual, legal, and practical—in modern genetics that are crucial to all of us. This strong, challenging volume is a collection of the major essays presented by historians, philosophers, and other academic humanists to a multidisciplinary audience of molecular and clinical geneticists, genetic counselors, humanists, and members of the public. The essays explore the historical background, philosophical implications, and ethical issues related to the Human Genome Project as well as other developments in modern genetics.
The questions raised in these essays are dramatic and troubling. What kind of knowledge is being produced by molecular geneticists? Do individual human genomes differ significantly from each other? How much do females and males differ from each other at the molecular level? Is there any genetic basis for distinguishing among racial or ethical groups? Can current practices in genetics counseling be compared to the earlier eugenics movement? Will current research lead to updated views on genetic “normalcy” or even “superiority”?
Ten years after the Human Genome Project’s completion the life sciences stand in a moment of uncertainty, transition, and contestation. The postgenomic era has seen rapid shifts in research methodology, funding, scientific labor, and disciplinary structures. Postgenomics is transforming our understanding of disease and health, our environment, and the categories of race, class, and gender. At the same time, the gene retains its centrality and power in biological and popular discourse. The contributors to Postgenomics analyze these ruptures and continuities and place them in historical, social, and political context. Postgenomics, they argue, forces a rethinking of the genome itself, and opens new territory for conversations between the social sciences, humanities, and life sciences.
Contributors. Russ Altman, Rachel A. Ankeny, Catherine Bliss, John Dupré, Michael Fortun, Evelyn Fox Keller, Sabina Leonelli, Adrian Mackenzie, Margot Moinester, Aaron Panofsky, Sarah S. Richardson, Sara Shostak, Hallam Stevens