The demographic boost of genetic passports (1150)

The meta-class of England, already largely in-breeding, is about to develop a new genetic-counselling service for its children and teenagers. It is probably in the vanguard of the meta-classes of other advanced countries for one thing because England was the first into the industrial revolution, the social consequences of which have had longer to unfold and become more defined. For another, because the science of genetics in this country is not far behind that of America.

A new term “meta-class” —or somesuch—has to be chosen because previous social categories such as “upper-class” or “middle-class” have largely lost their meaning in modern times. (Almost everybody with a house, a fairly new car, a fashionable kitchen and who occasionally drinks wine as well as beer call themselves middle-class now.) What I am talking about are the decision-makers of economic trends (and, of course social-status fashions). The meta-class of England, comprising of about 15-20% of the population, is the direct heir of the middle-class of about 10% of England about 100-150 years ago when the industrial revolution was at full spate. This in turn was the product of the very small numbers of the land-owning aristocracy plus a few professional minions plus exceptional “working-class” innovators—in total 5% of the population?—of 150 years before that. “Meta-class” is a better term than, say, “super-class”, particularly when talking of genetics, because there is still a wealth of potential in the “remainder-class” even though the latter are unlikely to benefit from the unfolding benefits of genetics to anywhere near the same extent.

Indeed, even our Tory-led government is aware of the talent potential of the “remainder-class” because it is genuinely trying to improve our declining-quality state-school system in order to recruit as much high talent as possible to join the meta-class. A country’s meta-class is going to be a government’s only resource in a world in which highly-educated specialists are becoming its predominant value-adders. A country’s meta-class will be necessary in order to afford at least minimal welfare for the remainder class as unemployment grows in an increasingly automated world which is, for those in well-paid jobs, becoming increasingly intellectually competitive.

In keeping with the above discussion, it is not surprising therefore that this country is the first—as far as I am aware—for the meta-class to propose genetic testing. Although, due to my interest in genetics, I have been thinking and writing about this for several years and have regarded it as inevitable, I was astonished to read yesterday that, already, this country’s Human Genetic Commission is recommending preconception testing for all. The purpose of this would be to identify the risk of a person passing one of many genetic diseases. These include the very rare diseases caused by harmful dominant genes (more strictly, dominant variations within “standard” genes) but mainly the many hundreds of harmful recessive genes of which, if both parents carry a copy, one child in four will inherit a doublet-version. Cystic fibrosis is a good, though poignant, example of such as disease. In such cases, the recessive predisposition becomes an inevitable disease at some stage in the child’s life.

Testing everybody won’t come about soon, however, if at all. What will delay mass-use initially (perhaps for decades) will be resistance from various religious lobbies in both the Christian camp together with that of our now quite sizeable Muslim population. The other problem is that the test for about 100 diseases is quite costly—about £400—although with continuing advances in super-computing and other techniques the cost is likely to come down quite substantially. On the other hand, the list of known recessive diseases, already in the hundreds is growing rapidly. Some geneticists say that the list will be as many as 3,000 as more are discovered in due course. (And new ones arise every generation. Every fertilization event produces mutational accidents, though most of them are neutral in effect.)

Also, genetic diseases are not always a straightforward matter of one recessive variation combining with another—giving a strict one in four chance. Most recessive diseases involve coalitions of many unfortunate gene-variations which, in the progeny, can produce even more complex variations. And many of these, in turn, can be turned on or off during an individual’s lifetime by external environmental feedback acting through what are known as epigenetic regulators.

In short, DNA determination and the potentialities of its genetic variations—the latter, in theory, almost infinite—is a very complex affair indeed. Some of the more common potentialities could, in theory, be made available to every teenager at little cost but whether all will use them before deciding to become partners or parents is highly doubtful due to lack of responsibility or education or intelligence. Then again, because the potential for genetic disease shades off into thousands of possibilities then expert opinion is going to be increasingly necessary in interpreting DNA sequences in terms of risk between any two young individuals. A consumer market of price differentials is going to develop between cheap individual “genetic passports” containing simple warnings and more expensive ones of much greater scope and precision.

The present meta-class is largely self-contained already (in England) in that its children go to select nursery, preparatory and fee-paying schools, and these then tend to go to a small band of top universities and form relationships there which become the meta-networks—including sexual partnerships and careers—which then persist throughout life. A few of the “remainder-class” manage to penetrate the meta-class by early adulthood by means of academic talent or entrepreneurial ability but, by and large, the meta-class is an in-breeding population. It is already large enough to avoid the penalties of too-close in-breeding but, assisted by some sort of graded genetic passports, its members will, in future years, also be able to practise recessive gene-variation avoidance.

This will not be the world of “designer babies” because, apart from a few simple matters such as colour of eyes or hair which depend on only a few genes, qualities of good health, looks and intelligence (all highly correlated as it happens) depend on even more subtle and numerous coalitions of genes than even recessive diseases do. But it certainly looks as though a future meta-class will be able to increasingly avoid genetic deficiencies. At the end of the day, however, will this cause the meta-class to enlarge its typical family size? At present the indigenous population for the last few decades of all classes in England (as in all advanced countries) have been breeding at less than replacement numbers and is at the point of rapid decline in the next generations or so—in theory, to extinction.

I suspect that the meta-class will reverse this trend among themselves. There is already anecdotal evidence that many meta-class women are now forsaking their high-power careers and are deciding to become mothers and housewives again, but there are no hard data of this yet. But now that graded genetic passports are in the offing, the next few years should be interesting—and perhaps extremely significant for the future of advanced countries.

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