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The Joshua Lederberg Papers

A Crisis in Evolution Annotation pdf (275,665 Bytes) ocr (9,526 Bytes)
A Crisis in Evolution
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2 (275,665 Bytes)
Lederberg, Joshua
Periodical: Lederberg, Joshua. "A Crisis in Evolution." New Scientist 21, (1963): 212-215. Article. 2 Images.
Lederberg UI: P110
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Reproduced with permission of New Scientist Publications.
Lederberg Grouping: Published Scientific Article
Box Number: 82
Folder Number: 3
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Series: Writings
SubSeries: Published Scientific Articles
Folder: P110: "A Crisis in Evolution" (1963)
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Annotation by Joshua Lederberg:
110   Lederberg J.
A crisis in evolution.
New Scientist 21: 212-213. (1963)
  repr. in Calder  1983;
This was followed in 1994 with a retrospection, published 
 New Scientist magazine, vol 144 issue #1947, 15/10/1994, page 51

Some 31 years ago, I referred to a "Crisis in Evolution" as a product
of the scientific revolution eventuating in molecular biology.  For
the forthcoming 20 to 50 years, I suggested such possibilities as:
1) availability of organ transplantation, 2) artificial organs,
3) extension of life span, 4) enhancement of brain development, and 5)
clonal reproduction.  I stressed my preference for "euphenic" measures,
those affecting the function and development of the individual, to
"eugenic", which might leave a more deepseated imprint on the evolution
of the species.  The time span for that muted prophecy is more than
half up on a linear scale (albeit technological advance is more nearly
exponential); it is reasonable to ask for an assessment.

There has been radical scientific advance in 1) and 5) -- sufficient to
have recruited substantial impetus for social regulation, e.g. of
"markets" in organs, and in research with human embryos respectively.
I am confident that those markets will be alleviated by the development
of transgenic animals, bred for the purpose: this is the target of
several commercial initiatives right now.  The technology for
embryological interventions -- viz. the very transgenics just mentioned
-- is already far past the point of comfort about their human
application.  I have just seen notice in the daily press advertising
a service for single sperm inoculation with in vitro fertilization, as
a means to alleviate mail infertility.

With the exception of the artificial heart, organ prostheses are moving
along in many fields, with implants ranging from intraosseous titanium
teeth (which I enjoy to great advantage myself) to pacemakers and rudimentary
artificial cochleas.  There is social ambivalence about the heart, as
much as daunting technical obstacles in the control of blood clotting:
we have hardly begun to measure the open-ended costs that will be
invoked by that technological fix.  For sure, prevention of heart
disease has been a preferred option during the last 3 decades, and
already with substantial benefit to healthy life span.

As to the brain, we have just begun to uncover the relevant range of
neural growth factors; and these are in earliest clinical trials,
some of them disappointing, to limn their therapeutic utility.  A
modest euphenic advance has been the advocacy of folic acid
supplementation for the avoidance of spina bifida.

We are still in the midst of evolving the social technology needed to
cope with the steady advance in life-span: witness the debates about
health care reform in the United States.;

jl  6/2/03