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Op-Ed: Is it ethical to probe for the 'IQ gene'?

By Tim Sandle     May 18, 2013 in Science
A project, in China, will attempt to analyze the DNA of high-IQ individuals to identify genetic variants related to intelligence. Is this the start of a new eugenics debate?
Scientists in China will undertake an analysis of the genomes of 1,600 so-termed 'super-smart people' in an attempt to see if there is a common genetic variant associated with intelligence, according to China Digital Times. The genome is the entirety of a person's hereditary information. Previous attempts to identify intelligence-related variants in the general population have failed.
For this new study, the genomes were collected from apparently intelligent people from around the world (defined as those with IQs of 160 or higher). Analysis is underway at the Beijing Genomics Institute, a private company that is partly funded by the Chinese government. The study is led by Zhao Bowen.
The new study has been made possible, in part, by improvements to scientific technology and the cost of genetic sequencing falling.
According to the science journal Nature the Chinese research has caused concern among other scientists who are either skeptical about the outcomes or worried about the implications. Some geneticists argue that the sample size remains too small, and intelligence too complex, for the study to produce any meaningful conclusions. Others note that intelligence is not simply 'genetic', but also a product of a person's social and environmental interactions, the degree of stimuli they receive, they way they are raised, and also the life-choices they make.
There is also a danger that if such a gene was identified that it could be used for some type of macabre selective breeding, akin to either the haunting reality of the novel Brave New World, or triggering some type of eugenics movement. As a sci-fi reference, the 1997 movie Gattaca depicts a dystopic society in which a person’s life opportunities and social class are determined by their genes.
Eugenics was associated with the various movements which came to fore during the 1920s and 1930s, both on the far right and the left. Eugenics is a philosophy based on the manipulation or selection of biological characteristics, one which advocates practices to improve the genetic composition of a population. This is through the promotion of higher reproduction of more desired people and traits, and reduced reproduction of less desired people and traits.
The concept of eugenics has not gone away (for example see the site 'Future Generations'). It could be argued that the use of eugenics to eliminate a particular type of genetic disease from the human population ultimately improves health but who has the right to chose this? And what happens in the wrong hands?
So, are the Chinese studies correct or potentially dangerous or simply meaningless? Please add your comments below.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about IQ, Genes, Genetics, Intelligence, Zhao Bowen
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