Darwin Vindicated!

Cracking of human genome confirms theory of evolution
By Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.


Feb. 21 -- The media flubbed the headline for the biggest news event in the past 50 years of science. The reporters and TV talking heads who crammed the Washington, D.C., press conference on Feb. 12 did understand that the details they were hearing about the human genome offered the story of a lifetime. But, they missed the real headline. Their stories should have simply said, "Darwin vindicated!"

Most reporters ballyhooed the fierce competition between scientists working for the publicly funded Human Genome Project and those employed by the privately funded Celera Genomics Corporation of Rockville, Md., to gain credit for the discovery. Others wondered about the financial implications of allowing human genes to be patented.

Still other headlines were meant to give us pause about whether it would be good or bad to know more about the role genes play in determining our health. Knowing more about our genes, after all, might not be so great in an era in which there is not much guarantee of medical privacy but a pretty good chance of discrimination by insurers and employers against those with "bad" genes.

There were even a couple of headlines that suggested that humanity should not be quite so arrogant since we do not have as many genes as we thought relative to other plants and animals. In fact, as it turns out, we have only twice as many genes as a fruit fly, or roughly the same number as an ear of corn, about 30,000. Reductionism may not be all that it has been cracked up to be by molecular biologists.

But none of these headlines capture the most basic, the most important consequence of mapping out all of our genes. The genome reveals, indisputably and beyond any serious doubt, that Darwin was right--mankind evolved over a long period of time from primitive animal ancestors.

Our genes show that scientific creationism cannot be true. The response to all those who thump their bible and say there is no proof, no test and no evidence in support of evolution is, "The proof is right here, in our genes."

Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., said that if you look at our genome it is clear that evolution must make new genes from old parts.

The core recipe of humanity carries clumps of genes that show we are descended from bacteria. There is no other way to explain the jerry-rigged nature of the genes that control key aspects of our development.

No one can look at how the book of life is written and not come away fully understanding that our genetic instructions have evolved from the same programs that guided the development of earlier animals. Our genetic instructions have been slowly assembled from the genetic instructions that made jellyfish, dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and our primate ancestors.

There is, as the scientists who cracked the genome all agreed, no other possible explanation.

Sure the business side of cracking our genetic code is fascinating. And we all need to be sure that our government does not leave us in the genetic lurch without laws to ensure our privacy and protect us against genetic discrimination.

All that, however, is concern for the future. Right now the big news from mapping our genome is that mankind evolved. The theory of evolution is the only way to explain the arrangement of the 30,000 genes and three billion letters that constitute our genetic code.

The history of humanity is written in our DNA. Those who dismiss evolution as myth, who insist that evolution has no place in biology textbooks and our children's classrooms, are wrong.

The message our genes send is that Charles Darwin was right.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.