Modern Eugenics


Jonah M. Kessel / China Daily


Recent work in genetics has made it clear that Tibetans, Andean Indians, and Ethiopians  adapted independently to high-altitude living.  It’s also clear that the Tibetan adaptations are more effective those in Andean Indians. Infant survival is better in Tibet, where babies average about half a pound heavier, and the suite of Tibetan adaptations doesn’t seem to  fail with increasing age, while a significant fraction of Andean Indians develop chronic mountain sickness in later life. The Andean pattern look something like an exaggerated  acclimatization response, while the Tibetan pattern is more like that seen in mammalian species have lived at high altitude for a long time.

Undoubtedly this is because Tibetans have lived at high altitude far longer than Amerindians. it’s even possible that some of these alleles go back to archaic humans, who could have lived in high-altitude areas of Asia for as much as two million years.

The obvious solution to these apparently permanent problems in Bolivia and Peru is a dose of Tibetan genes. Since Tibetan alleles are more effective, they must confer higher fitness, and so their frequencies should gradually increase with time.  This doesn’t mean that Bolivians would turn Tibetan overall – the change would only happen in those genes for which the Tibetan version was more efficient.   It wouldn’t take all that high a dose: in fact, if you’re not in a hurry, just a few tens of Tibetans could transmit enough copies of the key alleles to do the job, although admittedly you’d have to wait a few thousand years to complete the process.

Logically, the easiest way to do this would be to encourage some young Tibetan men to immigrate to the Andes. Clearly, men can be more effective at this than women. We could pay them to donate to the local sperm banks. We could subsidize the process, giving cash rewards to the mothers of part-Tibetan kids, a la the Howard Foundation. We could give our heros Corvettes.  Considering the general level of discontent in Tibet, it might not be too hard to recruit young men for this kind of work.

The project would take longer than the usual NIH time horizon, so probably the best approach is to find some wealthy sponsor.  You could get a sure-fire version of this program going, one big enough to make ultimate success a racing certainty, for under a million bucks.  The backer would never see the end result, but so what? When we build, let us think that we build forever.

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60 Responses to Modern Eugenics

  1. Cloudswrest says:

    Sounds like a project for the Long Now Foundation. -B

  2. Polymath says:

    How good are the Ethiopian adaptations?

  3. Jaim Jota says:

    The Han settlers in Tibet need that gene. The project may win the favourable condideration of the government of the PR of China.

    • reiner Tor says:

      I agree, but I don’t think eugenics needs an extra bad publicity: Look, eugenics has been used to facilitate genocide AGAIN! Having said that, it probably doesn’t matter if anti-eugenics people’s hearts can now bleed for those poor Tibetans as well.

      • dearieme says:

        The proposal is only for genocide on the y chromosome.

      • reiner Tor says:

        No, if you could add Tibetan genes to the Chinese settlers, the Chinese will quickly replace the Tibetan aboriginals. (Things look set for this anyway.)

      • Jaim Jota says:

        If Han people with Tibetan genes replace original Tibetans, could that be considered genocide?

        • reiner Tor says:

          If Han people with Tibetan genes replace original Tibetans, could that be considered genocide?

          If Han people with some Tibetan genes replace original Tibetans as a result of an intentional government policy, then yes, that is considered genocide.

          According to the most accepted definition, genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious, or national group”.

  4. dearieme says:

    Where are my manners? Congratulations, blogger, on one of the finest bits of teasing I’ve seen in many a day.

  5. little spoon says:

    lol, wut?

    You say: “This doesn’t mean that Bolivians would turn Tibetan overall ”

    Then you say: “Logically, the easiest way to do this would be to encourage some young Tibetan men to immigrate to the Andes. Clearly, men can be more effective at this than women. We could pay them to donate to the local sperm banks. We could subsidize the process, giving cash rewards to the mothers of part-Tibetan kids,”

    Right, so, how again is that plan of yours not having Bolivians turn more Tibetan overall?

    • Anonymous says:

      “turn Tibetan overall” is not the same as “turn more Tibetan overall”, is it Perfidia?

      • little spoon says:

        Technically. Does anyone know if tibetans have extra good skin solar defenses? They are not that dark skinned but tibet has super high uva/uvb exposure due to altutude. Do they get skin cancer at high rates? If not, do they have some different solar defense adaptation?

        Coz I don’t care about the altitude bit but I would like an extra solar defense mechsnism bottled.

      • aisaac says:

        I don’t know about their adaptations, but every older Tibetan I’ve seen is extremely leathery and sun damaged looking.

      • little spoon says:

        “I don’t know about their adaptations, but every older Tibetan I’ve seen is extremely leathery and sun damaged looking.”

        I agree. Their skin ages poorly, which is to be expected because the ultraviolet light exposure there is astronomical.

        So far the best natural defense against skin aging seems to be to have dark skin. I am not sure if the darkness itself is the only real defense that matters or if people with dark skin tend to have other solar defense mechanisms in higher amounts.

        In any case, there is a giant fortune waiting for whoever creates a cellular level treatment to allow everyone’s skin to operate like who ever has the most sun protected skin.

    • Anonymous says:

      Only a tiny amount of admixture between populations X and Y is necessary for a gene present in X to reach fixation in Y. That is, IF THE GENE is beneficial in Y’s environment.

      In other words, Y could end up becoming 100% like “X” at a certain locus, without any changes anywhere else. Indigenous Bolivians can acquire genes for high-altitude living from Tibetans without looking anything like Tibetans in the long run. A little bit of sugar sweetens the whole pot.

    • misdreavus says:

      Above commenter was me.

  6. IC says:

    No wonder that young Tibetan man looks so happy on top that Andean girl, lol. Good job, proffessor.

    Young guys, go west.

  7. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to mind the gap by introducing genes for gap-reduction to those groups that currently have a problem with the gap?

  8. athEIst says:

    I second Polymath’s question. Of course the Ethiopian highlands are not so high as Tibet/Andes.
    How good are the Ethiopian adaptations?

  9. Weltanschauung says:

    A truly philanthropic project.

    Once this is well underway, your philanthropist might take a look at North America and Western Europe, where the peasant masses (among whom I number most of my great-grandparents) have been displaced from the land and asked to earn their living in sedentary occupations that require reading, writing, and ciphering.

    Could a population be identified that has a head start with adaptations to this modern life? Maybe they wouldn’t even have to be airlifted from halfway around the world.

    • Anthony says:

      And we can use the “reductio ad hitlerium” against anyone who would object!

      • reiner Tor says:

        Alas, “reductio ad hitlerum” is and would in any case be used against eugenics.

      • engleberg says:

        Yoga has been a hive of the sin of miscegenation since well before Kenneth Rexroth. Sell this is sold as an anti-Christian scheme to counter the ‘reductio ad Adolf’. -And if Darlington was right about race and culture generally going together, Tibetan Yoga’s Higher Thought Thru Hyperventilation might work lots better for Tibetans than, say, Low Dutch (sea level) heritage Midwesterners (50′ above sea level).

  10. Patrick Boyle says:

    Assuming that the genetics of this are straight forward from DNA to RNA to some protein doesn’t it make more sense to simply administer the resulting protein and save a lot of time? Rather than wait all that time, how about just sending some nurses up the Andes to give the Indians a shot of some Tibetan proteins? Or if we got a little better technologically we could put some sort of live virus in that injection that would incorporate itself into the Indian’s genome and would then continue to produce the wanted proteins thereafter.

    You say that the eugenics approach might take a few thousand years. For purposes of argument let’s say you are wrong and it only takes a few hundred years. Even so, without some major setback like a global nuclear war or an asteroid strike, science is likely to be able to manipulate our genome well enough by the end of the century that these kind of genetic adjustments are routine out patient procedures. In 2100 I expect that your family doctor will give you a shot for all sorts of ‘genetic’ ailments like say – below average intelligence.

    Who needs eugenics?

  11. Steve Sailer says:

    Heinlein novels frequently feature ultra-rich charitable foundations with multi-generational goals, like the one that breeds for long life in Methuselah’s Children. Borges’ short story Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius features a similar foundation set up in American West in the 1850s.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Or the Bene Gesserit (and the God Emperor and others, but mostly the BG) in Frank Herbert’s Dune breeding humans for hundreds of generations.

    • Yeah, but the Tlon project was funded by a Kentuckian, so we know where that’s going.

    • Patrick Boyle says:

      Heinlein as I remember (that means I’m not going to look it up) predicted that the Chinese would be stymied in their attempt to conquer Tibet because the Tibetans has harnessed religion effectively. The fictional oppressed Americans then set up temples so as to conceal their opposition group. That seemed unlikely then, even to my childish imagination. The Chinese, now that they have conquered Tibet, seem to have aspirations in Africa. I don’t think Santeria/voodoo will stop them.

      The biggest Sci-Fi multi -generational experiments would have to be the ‘Known Space’ stories by Niven and Pournelle. The Kzin were bred by the Puppeteers to be foolish. Humans were bred (again as I remember) by the Pak (sort of). But people went wild. These eugenic experiments took place over geological time scales.

      They were all great stories but they all seem to suffer from the excess time problem. If you really knew biology why would you need to wait around for evolution?

      Animals are devices that operate largely by chemical reactions. Those chemicals have arisen through evolution but that doesn’t meant that you have to use evolutionary processes to replicate those chemicals.

      For example consider insulin. It was at first taken from sheep. Now it is manufactured from recombinant DNA. If we didn’t mind the wait we could have bred people or animals who would produce all that we need. But how long would that have taken?

      You do selective breeding because of your ignorance. If you knew how to make a dog from scratch you wouldn’t have to breed one from a wolf. You would just do it directly. Learning enough to know how to make a whole dog might take some time – probably longer than it would take to breed one. But for some simple high altitude adaptation it is likely to be faster to synthesize some protein. We have DNA sequencing machines today that were undreamed of just a few decades ago. How far off can protein synthesizing automation be?

      • gcochran9 says:

        Probably you should look it up. The puppeteers never bred the Kzin to be foolish – the Kzin did that to themselves, like us. The puppeteers tried to make the Kzin less aggressive. The Pak didn’t breed humans for anything: they were just our ancestors. And so on.

        I’m used to people getting real history wrong, but misremembering science fiction is shocking.

        You have to think about developmental processes, not just protein synthesis. The genetic code is more like a recipe than a blueprint. Life is complicated.

      • Brett says:

        Life is more than just bags of chemicals. As it happens, we’re actually pretty goddamned good at synthesizing proteins now, both chemically and by hijacking bacterial or eukaryotic machinery. Sticking synthesized proteins into people also doesn’t do much at all to solve problems. Insulin is special because it’s a peptide hormone that’s intended to be floating around in the bloodstream and we know how to get things into the bloodstream. You have to get the proteins they need in the right place at the right concentration at the right time to do the job needed.

        Here’s my favorite developmental biology story. Take a fruit fly egg. It starts off as a single cell and develops into a multicellular embryo with a distinct anterior and posterior end. How’s it figure out which end will be the head and which will be the tail? It turns out that there’s one protein – bicoid – that’s only present at the anterior end and another protein – nanos – that’s only present at the posterior end. Those initial two protein gradients are responsible for forming that entire axis and getting the proper proteins to express in the proper place to get the whole fly to develop properly. Where do those gradients come from in the first place? The mother fly imposes them on the egg while it’s still forming. They have nothing – nothing at all – to do with the genome of the egg. The mother synthesizes RNA and imports it into the egg and sticks one of those mRNAs at one end and the other at the other end, and that’s how the egg gets its polarization.

        Now, you can certainly break this system by disrupting one of those genes. Turns out if you knock out bicoid, which is supposed to mark the head of the developing fly, you get a fly that tries to have two tails, and it dies. But you also need the maternal imprinting or the egg won’t develop properly, and it will also die. The genome isn’t enough.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        Is this maternal imprinting done pre-fertilization or post-fertilization?

        Is the same strategy used in other insects? What about mammals or indeed all other organisms that have a need to distinguish their mouth from their anus?

      • melendwyr says:

        gcochran9 said: “The Pak didn’t breed humans for anything: they were just our ancestors. And so on.”

        That’s not quite how those stories went. The Pak were the rare ‘adult’ form of the species, and it actively selected the juvenile morphs to prevent genetic drift and make them easier to mind – not least by preventing natural selection for dangerous intelligence and initiative. There are a few Known Space stories in which the Pak try to deal with new situations by letting their farmed juveniles experience natural selection for a while, then developing new Pak from that population and hoping they’d be smarter.

        Modern humans eventually developed from juveniles that lost their minders, and the adult morphs which developed when humans were re-exposed to Tree-of-Life were brilliant even by the standards of the ancient Pak. A few of them even managed to overcome their biological programming.

        • gcochran9 says:

          I used to think I was familiar with those stories. For one thing, years ago, I pointed out (to Jim Baen) that no such arrangement could ever have evolved, so the Pak were obviously a product of biological engineering…

          Which stories had the Pak deliberately using natural selection on the breeders?

      • melendwyr says:

        Found in ‘Man-Kzin Wars IX’, if I recall correctly. The story in question is strikingly memorable, as it attributes *everything* that has ever happened in the Known Space canon to an uber-conspiracy of evolved Paks – completely plausibly. The Puppeteers have nothing on ’em.

        The Kzinti did indeed eugenically ‘improve’ their species. Their frequent encounters with humanity resulted in actual improvement, as all of the ‘scream and leap’ers are bred out of the population. And as it turns out, surgically removing the section of their brains responsible for their low-level psi makes them much more reasonable. (They evolved under low-static conditions, but population density overloads their telepathy.)

        A very, very odd series.

      • engleberg says:

        In Protector, individual Pak kill all primates unless they smell like family. Nicer than Sarah Blffer Hrdy. In later books the superintelligent conspiracies tend to pile up. In Ringworld, the Puppetteers are revealed as giving humans access to Outsiders to limit Kzin aggression- in later books this is described as a eugenics twice, once by Teela, who has the luck to get away with unintentionally insulting a Kzin, and once by Nessus in a manic phase, to intentionally insult his Kzin. I don’t think our aerial, artillery, and Soviet hands-on massacres of Germans changed their DNA, but they never had a serious hard-on for peace before 1939, and they’ve had one since 1945.

      • Kzanol says:

        What was Niven thinking with the idea that Kzin casualties on interstellar warships could represent a large enough share of their population to produce substantial natural selection at the population level? Even modern warfare only involves a small portion of the population, and nukes at 10 million kilometers is not particularly labor-intensive.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Well, maybe the Kzin actually put a big fraction of their male population into combat, something like the Red Army in WWII. Remember that they had slave races like the Jotocki for a lot of their support activities. And there were many Human-Kzin wars – six, eight?

          Pay me and I’ll come up with a workable scenario that doesn’t blatantly violate the ground rules of Known Space.

          That said, he probably didn’t think about it very hard. He is not alone in this. I’m trying to think of ANYONE in public life that ever understands quantitative genetics and its implications, knows what is possible with feasible selection.

      • melendwyr says:

        Total fraction of the population isn’t actually relevant – the relative proportion of breeders is what matters. If successful soldiers are overwhelmingly the progenitors of the next generation, then it’s entirely possible for selection on a relatively small proportion of the population to change the population overall. But they were terribly overbred. One series of stories dealt with the emergence of a Kzinti strategic genius, and Earth’s attempts to assassinate him and all his offspring before they bred a class of warrior that was smart enough to carry out successful campaigns against humans.

      • melendwyr says:

        Also, what about castes? If military officers come from a caste system, battle selection could have little effect on the species yet a major effect on that small, isolated subgroup.

        • neilfutureboy says:

          That’s what the feudal system was. One sign all this genetics stuff may not be so important is that hereditary monarchy/aristocracy has not developed families who are clearly more fitted to rule.

  12. Altitude is a notoriously difficult concept to define. It is highly culture-bound. Do you mean altitude above the base of the mountain, as in Mauna Loa, the height above sea level, the distance from the center of the earth, the height above the nearest inhabited area, or some other definition of altitude? Modern thinkers prefer to speak in terms of “multiple altitudes.” A person born at a lower elevation may have had to climb a greater distance to get to 10,000 ft or 15,000ft. (Reported altitudes higher than that should be regarded with suspicion.) And are we sure it is the alleles, after all? People born at certain privileged altitudes might be merely defining their own mountains as “highest.” Additionally, their children might only seem to be better adapted to altitude because of better nutrition, plumbing, and access to medical care. Bringing pre-K children up mountains under government sponsorship might be more effective than looking for some purported genetic connection.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Also, when talking about “altitude of geographical regions”, you need to ask: what is a geographical region? Is it even relevant to “altitude”?

      The famous scientist Lewontin has shown that distances within a certain geographical region can be much higher than between two regions. Take for example Sichuan and Tibet. The distance between Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan) and Lhasa (the capital of Tibet) is 2079 kilometers. However, the distance between Ngari and Qamdo (two Tibetan cities) is 2142 kilometers. (And Tibet is even larger than that!) Moreover, if you are on the border between Sichuan and Tibet, than the distance between the two provinces falls to zero! Any part of Tibet or Sichuan will be more distant from the border than the border itself. Amazing, isn’t it? And that’s not everything.

      As we now know, people have called an ever changing area “Tibet” or “Sichuan”. Some Tibetans still think that the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to be part of Tibet. Historically, the border between the two has never been stable. So basically both historical regions are mere social constructs.

      It is also well-known that however you measure it, the altitudes within a given geographical region can widely differ, according to where you measure it. How can you say that Tibet is higher than Sichuan, when Sichuan’s highest peak is already above 7,500 m, whereas there are points in Tibet below even 3,000 m?

      In other words, just as altitude doesn’t even exist, neither does geographical region, and the “altitude of a geographical region” is a totally meaningless concept. Those who say that “Tibet is higher than Sichuan” are not even wrong.

      What is sure is that the geographical region covered with snow (the white region) is the cancer of the Earth. Regions of color have unfortunately been always oppressed by the white region, so it needs more diversity: the snow needs to be molten so that it gets more brown.

  13. reiner Tor says:

    I thought about the “men would be more effective” argument, and I’m not convinced. A typical male lives in a monogamous marriage, as does a typical female (at least I think that’s the case in both Tibet and Bolivia), so the number of their offspring can’t differ widely. However, median males probably have slightly higher number of offspring, but also a higher chance of having no offspring at all. Because the new genes have a selective advantage, the only question is whether they can survive the first few generations: I would bet on the females. In the end, the genes will spread, but only if they can survive the first few generations, and with a male, you have a higher chance of failure. Moreover, when talking about multiple generations, a female can have a son or a grandson, so in a long-term project you can wait a couple of generations more if males are really that more efficient. (In other words, the delay caused by such a project would not be more than maybe two or three generations, and possibly just one generation.)

  14. dave chamberlin says:

    I’ll betcha them Tibetans were benefited by rape from by the Abominable Snowman. Just like them plumb dumb but anatomically modern Africans were rudely welcomed by the Neanderthals to our lasting benefit. I’m gonna be a cryptozoologist when I grow up. Everybody is looking for bigfoot but I’m going to go looking for littlefoot. Yep, if there are any hominids hiding out there my theory is they are really small and sneaky and hiding out on those tens of thousands of unpopulated islands out there in the general vacinity of Flores Indonesia where them hobbits were hiding and maybe still are.

  15. ironrailsironweights says:

    According to Roosh, a white American man who travels to the Andean city of Cusco, Peru is almost certain to find local women practically throwing themselves at him.


  16. mindfuldrone says:

    This belongs somewhere–just in case no-one has shared it with Greg yet

  17. Asher says:

    Greg, quick question. Let’s say that someone have a specific mutation that generates a 30 percent reproductive advantage but 29 mutations that generate a 1 percent reproductive advantage, each. Are the deleterious mutations likely to piggyback onto the advantageous one? Okay, that’s an extremely marginal case but you get the idea.

    has anyone calculated how deleterious mutations can piggyback, if possible, on advantageous ones? Is that what happened in this case?

  18. neilfutureboy says:

    “Considering the general level of discontent in Tibet, it might not be too hard to recruit young men for this kind of work.”

    Go west young man.

    Personally I doubt if there us any society so contented such recruits would not be available. Not so sure of the gratitude of the recipient population.

  19. Richard Sharpe says:

    If find this author’s faith that the government can effect genetic change to be interesting:

    The government has a clear and compelling interest in promoting marriage: Virtually all of the research shows that stable marriages increase economic output, reduce poverty, shrink income inequality, lower rates of incarceration and drug use, and spur the creation of future taxpayers (aka babies).

  20. melendwyr says:

    Typically of these sorts of schemes (whether made seriously or tongue-in-cheek), the proposer ignores the most important aspect of the project: women.

    It would be fairly easy to recruit men – one way or another, they have a straightforward and relatively cheap investment. But finding the women willing to marry / be inseminated by Tibetans is quite another matter.

  21. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Maybe they will bring their own special music with them:

  22. Pingback: Modern Eugenics | West Hunter | RFID Chip Dange...

  23. Pingback: Call Him George | West Hunter

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