THE MAP OF LIFE

Created: Wednesday, 01 October 2014 Last Updated: Wednesday, 01 October 2014

THE MAP OF LIFE


1. On June the 27th , 2000, the news media put out the news in full page: “The world changes of era as the map of life has been found” (La Vanguardia). “The reading of the human genome opens a new era in the fight against illness” (El País). “Deciphered the book of the life. XXI century’s  biomedicine is born to heal thousands of illnesses” (ABC). “The map of the life is already complete” (Diario 16). The optimism due to the discovery of this so well kept secret up to now in the history of humanity, that has been on the earth for 100.000 years, was patent.
2. The book of the life has really been gradually discovered. The heritance laws were discovered in 1865 by the Austrian Augustinian Gregory Mendel. His experiments with peas led, in a series of findings, to the discovery of the ADN. The living beings are composed by  thousands of proteins that allow them to move, to breath, to obtain energy and to exchange materials with the environment. The information needed to build all that is kept in an independent basis for data, isolated, stable through out the generations and transmitted from parents to children. This was Mendel’s discovery. Today the elements of that data base are called genes. And the data base as a whole is called genome.
3. The human genome has 23 pairs of different chromosomes. 22 pairs are numbered approximately in size order, from the biggest to the smallest. The remaining pair corresponds to the sexual chromosomes: two big chromosomes X in women, an X and a little Y in men. The chromosomes are full of enormous molecules called ADN (deoxyribonucleic acid), that has a double helix shape. The human body contains about 100 billion cells, the majority of which has less than one tenth millimetre of diameter. Each cell has a nucleus. Inside the nucleus two complete series of the human genome are found (except in the ovules and in the sperm, that have a copy each one, and the red corpuscles that have none). One series of the genome comes from the mother and the other one from the father.
4. The ADN is made by thousands of millions of little components called bases. The bases are only of four types: A (adenine), C (cytosine), G (guanine) and T (thiamine). The ADN is a very long double row of bases (the double helix). Between a row and the other, the bases mate following always the rules of the Austrian Erwin Chargaff: A always with T; G always with C. This complementarity is the secret of the life, since if the two rows separate, each one may reconstruct the other: that is why the genes may obtain copies of themselves, the cells may copy the model and the human beings may reproduce themselves.
5.”None of the privileged who saw by first time the double helix in the spring of 1953 believed that we could ever see it fully decoded”. Says James Watson. “My desire is to help accelerating the human genetics was what encouraged me in 1986 to turn into one of the first fans of the Human Genome Project, whose final objective was to find the sequence of the approximately 3.000 millions of letters that make up our genetics code. Although many brilliant youngsters claimed that the time of the project had not arrived yet, those who belong to the previous generation were seeing too near our parents and spouse victims of illnesses of genetics predisposition. And practically everybody knew couples with children whose future was fogged by a bad throw of the genetic dice” (El País, June the 28th, 2000).
6. Craig Venter is the president of Celera Genomics, the private company of Rockville (in Washington suburbs) that has got  to decipher the human genetics code in collaboration with the public investigation Human Genome Project, in what is considered the largest milestone of the medical and biological history . 800 computers accelerated the final straight line. As the human genome sequence was completed, the scientific can begin the job of localization of the genes to analyze their function in the organism. In a later phase, the study of the genes will allow he creation of new drugs and medical techniques intended for the healing of illnesses.
7. “We are learning the language with which God created the life”, said Clinton in the discovery’s  presentation. Its practical consequences are enormous: “they will change the medicine for ever”, they will deliver “a new power to heal”, especially in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illnesses like Alzheimer, Parkinson, diabetes and cancer. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, added to that list the cardiac problems, the schizophrenia, blood high pressure and all the complications which have a genetic origin or contribution. Dr. Dexter in London says: “The information about the sequence of the genes will allow us to identify in a precise way which gene is the one that fails when we contract a disease, and, once we know it, an enormous number of possible treatments will open”
8. “In the five genomes that we have deciphered, there is no way to differentiate an ethnic group from the other”,  said Craig Venter. In this quintet there is an Hispanic, an Asiatic, an Afro-American and a Caucasian (white European). So, neither whites nor black or yellow. The human genetic maps may reflect the large variety of features and characteristics of the human being, but nobody may consider other person like inferior because of his genetic code
9.  Amidst the optimist due to the new discovery some risks are noticed. The business owners could use the data to select their employees and, so, a discrimination will come up. Insurance companies could rise the premiums to the people with more predisposition to sickness. Any sample of blood delivered for some purpose could be used for other, and so privacy could be violated. It is necessary to follow the respect to the rules about data protection: “we are obliged to point out the dangers that could mean the inhumane handling of the information about the genetic personality of the citizens” (ABC, June 28th, 2000)
10. Additionally, the benefits of the new discovery could accessible only to the richest, taking place an inequality in something so elemental and necessary like the air, the bread or the health. The politicians must watch out so that the genetic revolution that this discovery means is effectively placed at the service of the common benefit. It is necessary to call for the responsibility of the researchers and of the Governments “in order to guarantee that the book of life be patrimony of  Humanity and no for the benefit of only a few” (ABC, June the 27th, 2000). Some days later, the following Sunday, the reading in all churches was: “I do not mean that others should be at ease and you burdened. Strive for equality” (2 Co 8, 13)
11. A passage of the book of Wisdom was also read, in which God is presented like author of life and not of death. God created the man “image of his same nature” (Wis 2, 23). The man reflects a greatness that does not come from him, it is image of a plenitude that transcends him. For the believers, the discovery of the map of the life places us in front of God´s Wisdom: “You ordered all with measure, number and weight.” (Wis 11, 20). It is said in psalm 8: “Oh Lord, our Lord, how great is your name throughout the earth!... what is the mortal that you be mindful of him?. And it is also said: “you have crowned him with glory and honour.  You made him rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet”

12. As the Vatican council II said, we are before a new situation of the culture. It is even possible to talk about a “new age of human history”. Such situation has been prepared “by the enormous growth of natural, human and social sciences, by technical progress, and advances in developing and organizing means whereby men can communicate with one another” (GS 54). In the dialogue of the faith with the science it is necessary to keep the following principle: do not seek in the science what only the faith can give us and, at the same time, do not seek in the faith what science can offer us.
* Dialogue: What does the new discovery mean? Which perspectives open in the fight against illness? Which risks watch out? How do we live it from the faith?